5 Things You Need To Know About Great Bodily Injury

GBI Sentencing Enhancement

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Great Bodily Injury Defined

California has a complicated scheme of sentencing enhancements.  These include crimes that trigger a lengthened sentence such as prior crimes, use of a gun, gang crimes, great bodily injury and carjacking.  Sentencing enhancement for causing great bodily injury (GBI) are rather straightforward compared to other enhancement laws.

First it must be determined what qualifies as a “great bodily injury.”  The California Penal Code refers to it as a significant or substantial physical injury1.   Unfortunately the definition is very broad and therefore it is left in the hands of the jury to decide what qualifies as a great bodily injury in each case.

First it must be determined what qualifies as a “great bodily injury.”  The California Penal Code refers to it as a significant or substantial physical injury2.   Unfortunately the definition is very broad and therefore it is left in the hands of the jury to decide what qualifies as a great bodily injury in each case.

How Does The Jury Determine GBI?

Fortunately or unfortunately there is no mathematical equation or bright line rule for the determination of GBI.  This is good for your attorney if they are skilled in arguing that the victim’s injuries do not rise to GBI.  However, it depends on the jury and their determination ultimately.  Although GBI is determined on a case-by-case basis, the jury considers several factors in making their determination, such as the pain caused to the victim, the severity of the injuries, and any medical care that was required3. The question of whether the harm to the victim constitutes great bodily injury is a question of fact for the jury, not a question of law.4

Sentencing Enhancement For GBI

The standard enhancement for GBI is 3 to 6 years in state prison.  It applies to anyone who causes GBI during the commission of a felony or an attempted felony5.

In effect, it adds 3 to 6 years to a defendant’s sentence for the underlying felony committed, and it runs in addition to and consecutively to that sentence.  There is a harsher enhancement applied when GBI results from shooting a firearm from a car.   An example is a drive-by shooting.  In this case, the enhancement can be 5, 6, or 10 years however it is limited to cases where it is proven the defendant had the intent to cause GBI or death.

Determining 3, 4, 5 or 6 Years

The 3-6 year enhancement for GBI is in addition and consecutive to the sentence you receive for the underlying offense.  Whether you receive an additional 3, 4, 5, or 6 years depends on the age of the victim, the severity of the injury, and the circumstances of the offense.

Cases that involve a victim who is a senior over 70 or a child under 5 usually receive harsher sentencing enhancement.  In cases involving domestic violence or sexual crimes  there is also greater penalties sanctioned.

Three Strikes Law

Under California’s 3 strikes law, GBI offenses count as a strike on your criminal record for three strikes purposes.  In short, the three strikes law is a sentencing scheme that adds additional prison sentences on certain repeat offenders convictions for serious or violent felonies.

Emotional Injury

Typically GBI must be an actual physical injury not emotional or financial.  Major traumas often result in brain damage or paralysis, which are great bodily injury however even injuries that aren’t this severe can still qualify as GBI if they are physical bodily injuries and the jury determines they qualify.

Specific Examples Of GBI

Injuries that qualify as GBI in one case may not constitute the same in another.  Each jury may evaluate the injuries in every case differently.  Therefore, GBI is determined on a case-by-case basis, and the examples listed may not qualify in every case depending on the circumstances.

Some examples of GBI in other cases include:

  • Broken bones6
  • A black eye
  • Vaginal soreness, abrasions and a painful neck from a rape
  • Gunshot wounds
  • A dog bite7

Difference Between Great Bodily Injury & Serious Bodily Injury

Under the Penal Code there is a punishable offense for battery involving “serious bodily injury” ((California PC 243(d)).  This raises the obvious question:  What is the difference between serious bodily injury and GBI?

First of all, the crime of battery causing serious bodily injury does not qualify for sentencing enhancement because the crime itself requires proof of serious bodily injury as an element.  In effect, serious bodily injury is a lower standard than great bodily injury.  However, because the determination is left to the jury to decide what qualifies as GBI, it is possible that a jury could find that the serious bodily injury rises to GBI thus triggering sentencing enhancement.

When California’s great bodily injury statute was originally written in 1976, specific types of GBI were listed that qualified according to the California Legislature.  These included:

  • Prolonged loss of consciousness
  • Severe concussion
  • protracted loss of any bodily member or organ,
  • protracted impairment of function of any bodily member or organ or bone,
  • A wound or wounds requiring extensive suturing,
  • Serious disfigurement, and severe physical pain inflicted by torture.8

However, before the law was enacted in 1977, the Legislature removed this language and amended the definition of GBI from a “serious impairment of physical condition” to “a substantial or significant injury”, which is how the code currently reads.  The prior listed conditions made their way into the definition used for “serious bodily injury” (a lesser standard than GBI used in assault inflicting serious bodily injury charges.), however in reality the two terms are used interchangeably.

Examples where there is no sentencing enhancement

In cases where a defendant is in a car accident due to intoxication and which causes another to suffer GBI, he/she could face a conviction for driving under the influence causing injury ((California Vehicle Code 23153)).   While one won’t be charged with this enhancement in conjunction with killing another in a DUI manslaughter case, one can receive this enhancement for any surviving victims who sustained GBI.

Again this is the example when “great bodily injury” isn’t used as a sentencing enhancement because death is a necessary element of the offense.   When someone is killed and a defendant is charged with homicide, sentencing already takes that death into consideration.  As a result, murder, manslaughter, and arson are the only crimes exempt from the GBI sentencing enhancement, as each already incorporates its own enhanced penalty due to the nature and severity of the crimes.

Hiring An Attorney

The state of California has implemented tough laws against violent crimes including the three strikes law. If you have been involved in a crime that lead to GBI, you will need an attorney for several reasons.  Not only is your fate left in the hands of a jury, you face a strike under California’s three strikes law, and you face a sentencing enhancement on the underlying offense if the jury determines GBI.  If you are facing a sentencing enhancement contact our office for a free consultation at 818-351-9555.

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Footnotes

  1. California Penal Code 12022.7(f) as used in this section, “great bodily injury” means a significant or substantial pyshical injury []
  2. California Penal Code 12022.7(f) as used in this section, “great bodily injury” means a significant or substantial pyshical injury []
  3. People v. Cross (2008) 45 Cal.4th 58, 66 []
  4. People v. Escobar (1992) 3 Cal.4th 740, 750. []
  5. California Penal Code 12022.7(a) Any person who personally inflicts great bodily injury on any person other than an accomplice in the commission of a felony or attempted felony shall be punished by an additional and consecutive term of imprisonment in the state prison for three years. []
  6. People v. Villarreal (1985) 173 Cal.App.3d 1136, 1141. []
  7. People v. Frazier (2009) 173 Cal. App. 4th 613, 618. []
  8. Escobar at 747, endnote 29. []