TN Supreme Court Reiterates Definition of “Serious Bodily Injury”

TN Supreme Court Reiterates Definition of “Serious Bodily Injury”


Supreme Court
The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in a recent opinion, State of Tennessee v. Michael Farmer and Anthony Clark, that a gunshot wound is not necessarily the same thing as a serious bodily injury. The state’s high court clarified the legal standards in an opinion published late last month in the case of two men found guilty of especially aggravated robbery for shooting a man in the leg during a 2008 Memphis robbery.

The victim, Terrell Westbrooks, was shot while trying to flee from the two burglars who burst into an apartment where he and a friend were illegally purchasing prescription painkillers. Westbrooks testified that he did not at first realize he had been shot, a through and through injury that left surprisingly little damage. In fact, Westbrooks said that he was treated at a hospital and released in around an hour.

The opinion, written by Justice Sharon G. Lee, said the prosecutors failed to show that Westbrooks was at risk of dying, lost consciousness or suffered extreme pain, disfigurement or substantial impairment. Those are the standards spelled out in the state statutes that define serious bodily injury. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-106(a)(34) states that  “serious bodily injury” is defined as “bodily injury that involves: (A) A substantial risk of death; (B) Protracted unconsciousness; (C) Extreme physical pain; (D) Protracted or obvious disfigurement; [or] (E) Protracted loss or substantial impairment of a function of a bodily member, organ or mental faculty.”

As a result of the failure to demonstrate the statutory definition, the Court threw out the especially aggravated robbery convictions for Anthony Clark and Michael Farmer. It instead ordered the trial court to sentence the two on the much less serious charge of aggravated robbery.

In a concurring opinion, Justice William C. Koch Jr. said the case demonstrated the need for criminal prosecutions going forward to use expert medical testimony when trying to prove serious bodily injury. “We should candidly acknowledge that some injuries which appear bloody and gruesome to laypersons may not have a substantial risk of death, while other injuries that are seemingly benign might, in fact, pose a substantial risk of death.”

To read the full opinion, click here.

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