Difference Between Serious and Great Bodily Injury in a Criminal Case

Posted by Ronald D. HeddingAug 21, 2019

These two particular allegations carry with them prison time most of the time.  So, you want to know the difference.  They are allegations; they're not crimes themselves, so they must be attached to a crime.

Difference Between Serious and Great Bodily Injury

For example, somebody's driving intoxicated by alcohol or drugs or both.  They get into an accident and hurt somebody else.  Depending on how bad the injury is, that person could be charged with a felony DUI, a serious bodily injury. There could also be great bodily injury enhancements that add three years on the back of any sentence that you get great bodily injury enhancements which adds three years on the back of any sentence you get for that felony DUI. This “GBI” enhancement is covered under California Penal Code 12022.7 PC. 

It's not limited to DUI's these bodily injury allegations.  It also has to do with batteries.  You could cause serious injury to somebody.  It has to do with all sorts of different crimes.  The issue becomes that somebody does something intentionally and injures another party.

Then the question becomes, how bad is the injury?  The worse the injury, the more likely you will be charged with great bodily injury or a severe injury that could elevate a typical misdemeanor case up to a felony case. Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will explain this topic below.

Great Bodily Injury Adds Three Years to a Sentence

How they came up with a great bodily injury and serious bodily injury has to do with victims of crime being taken care of and punishing those individuals who hurt other people. So, that's where the great bodily injury allegation came in.  The problem with this great bodily injury allegation is that it tacks three years on the back of a sentence, which is bad enough to make any crime a strike in California.

So, if you had a case, that would typically be a misdemeanor or a felony. It gets elevated up to a felony because of the great bodily injury allegation, or even a severe injury allegation, and you have to admit that you inflicted great bodily injury against another person, that admission will cause the crime that you plead guilty or no contest to, to become a strike, and that means you can't get it off your record.  You can't reduce it to a misdemeanor, and you're going to serve 85% of any custody time that you get ordered to do.

So, that's why knowing what great bodily injury is and what serious bodily injury is significant, and unfortunately, it's very nebulous.  In other words, the distinction between the two is a very fine line.

Often, it's subjective; sometimes, it's just obvious.  For example, if you're driving a car drunk, you hit somebody. You break a bone in their body – break their leg, for example, or break their collar bone, you could get charged with a felony DUI, where the serious bodily injury comes in. You could also get great physical harm because any broken bone is typically enough to get the great bodily injury allegation.

Superb Bodily Injury Case Example

A critical distinction between a severe injury and great bodily injury is to be hit with that great bodily injury allegation; you have to inflict great bodily injury against somebody personally.  I'll give you an example.

I had a case recently where my client was charged with a felony DUI, and they also put a great bodily injury on the back of it.  Now, the prosecutors realize that my client was not the one who caused great bodily harm and personally hit this other car.

The client blocked the freeway, which caused another car to hit the victim, so he could be charged with serious bodily injury because that does not force somebody to inflict the injury personally.  You have to be the cause of the injury.

Whereas he could not be charged with significant bodily injury because he's not the one that hit the other car, even though it could be argued, he's the one that set the circumstances that caused the other vehicle to be hit. So, as you can see, some of this stuff can become very complicated.  I've had cases where my client is guilty of causing excellent body injury but was able to get that three years prison suspended and not imposed against the person.

But, if they still admit the great body injury allegation, that makes that crime a strike.  So, on the one hand, you don't have to do the three years, but on the other hand, you still have a strike on your record. So, it's a much better circumstance if you could get it struck altogether, but that takes work, skill, and experience. So, if you have a severe bodily injury allegation or a great bodily injury allegation, pick up the phone and call us to review the details.