Massachusetts Appeals Court Rules Cut Fingers Do Not Constitute “Bodily Injury”

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today ruled that an assault victim who suffered cuts on his fingers while being slashed with a knife did not sustain a “bodily injury” as defined by the state hate crime statute.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Sudler

On August 3, 2014, the victim was walking toward a subway station in South Boston.  As he approached the station, the victim heard a car door slam and someone call him a faggot.  The defendant and a codefendant began walking toward the victim and the defendant repeatedly called the victim a faggot.  After noticing the defendant was holding a knife, the victim pulled out a knife he had been carrying.  A fight ensued during which the defendant and the victim took swings at one another.  Immediately following the altercation, the victim resumed walking to the subway station and noticed red fluid dripping from his hand.  After initially believing the bottle he was holding was leaking, the victim realized two of his fingers had been cut.  The defendant followed the victim into the station and once again called the victim a faggot, setting off another physical altercation during which the victim stabbed the defendant in the shoulder.  The police and EMTs eventually arrived and the victim was treated on the scene (treatment that consisted of the EMTs offering a Band Aid to the victim).  The defendant was indicted for assault and battery with intent to intimidate causing bodily injury and a Suffolk Superior Court jury convicted him.  On appeal, the defendant argued the victim’s injuries did not qualify as “bodily injuries” pursuant to the statute and the Appeals Court agreed.

Assault and battery with intent to intimidate, also known as the hate crime statute, criminalizes an assault and battery committed with the specific intent to intimidate the victim because of the victim’s membership in a protected group.  Therefore, if a defendant assaults a victim because the victim is gay, or the member of a racial minority, there are enhanced penalties.  There are additional enhanced penalties if the victim sustains a bodily injury during the attack.  In this case, the Commonwealth clearly established the defendant committed an assault and battery against the victim based on the victim’s sexual orientation.  The question was whether cut fingers constituted bodily injuries.  A bodily injury is defined as a substantial impairment of the physical condition, including burns, bone fractures, subdural hematomas, internal organ injuries, or any injury that results from repeated harm to any organ or bodily function.  The victim did not sustain any of the specific examples of bodily injury contained in the statute, so the Appeals Court considered whether his injuries qualified as a “substantial impairment of the physical condition.”  The Court said impairment of the physical condition means a body part is damaged to the point that it is compromised in its ability to perform its function in the victim’s body.  In this case, the victim’s cut fingers weren’t serious enough to qualify.  There was no evidence the victim needed stitches or required continued medical care.  There was also no evidence the victim sustained debilitating pain.  Under these circumstances, the bodily injury prong of the statute was not satisfied.

The Appeals Court remanded the case to Suffolk Superior Court for the entry of a conviction for the lesser-included offense of assault and battery with intent to intimidate (no bodily injury).