What is the legal definition of great bodily harm?

by Lewis Gainor on April 25, 2010

Great Bodily Harm

If a person causes great bodily harm to another while committing a criminal offense, the charge is usually a felony.

What is the definition of great bodily harm?

The Illinois Criminal Code of 1961 does not specify which injuries constitute great bodily harm. The question is for the jury to decide. When defendants have been found guilty of aggravated battery and appealed, the appellate courts have provided a general guideline as to what amounts to great bodily harm:

“Great bodily harm” is more serious or grave than lacerations, bruises, or abrasions that characterize “bodily harm.” See People v. Costello, 95 Ill. App. 3d 680 (1981).

It is a matter for the fact finder during trial to determine whether great bodily harm was suffered. As a practical matter, most county State’s Attorneys will file felony charges on any case that involves fractured bones. For example, a broken nose resulting from a fight will almost always result in a felony charge. And of course, so will any injury worse than that.

Great bodily harm is important because of its impact on sentencing. Most cases involving great bodily harm will result in a felony charge.

All felony offenses under Illinois law are classified as follows:

  • Class 4 felonies are punishable by 1-3 years in the Department of Corrections (DOC) and a $25,000 fine. All Class 4 felonies are probationable, in that the defendant is eligible for a term of probation as opposed to 1-3 years prison. An example of a Class 4 felony based on causing great bodily harm is reckless conduct.
  • Class 3 felony offenses have a sentencing range of 2-5 years DOC and possible fine of $25,000. Aggravated battery based on great bodily harm is a Class 3.
  • Class 2 felonies have a sentencing range of 3-7 years prison and possible $25,000 fine. Aggravated domestic battery, which is domestic battery causing great bodily harm, is a Class 2 felony offense. Aggravated battery to a peace officer, such as resisting arrest resulting in injury to the police officer, is also a Class 2 felony. In these cases, the injury can be any injury, no matter how minor. If the injury is serious, however, then the charge is enhanced.
  • Class 1 felony offenses have a sentencing range of 4-15 years in DOC and possible $25,000 fine. Aggravated battery to a peace officer resulting in great bodily harm is a Class 1 felony. Note that this offense is different from Class 2 aggravated battery to a peace officer based on resisting arrest and minor injury.
  • Class X felonies are nonprobationable, meaning the court cannot legally sentence the defendant to probation. The charge carries a mandatory prison sentence. The sentencing range for a Class X felony is 6-30 years prison. Aggravated battery with a firearm is one such felony that is categorized as a Class X.

A felony offense can become a misdemeanor through a negotiated plea in which the State reduces the charge in exchange for the guilty plea. Or, the State may have proceeded on a misdemeanor charge simply because the evidence was not sufficient to charge the defendant with great bodily harm from the beginning.

In either case, with a misdemeanor offense involving bodily harm the issue is credit for time in custody. Almost all misdemeanors are eligible for what is called “good-time” credit or “day-for-day” credit. With good-time credit, a defendant will serve only 50% of the sentence in jail. The defendant receives one day of credit for every day in custody (as in day-f0r-day).

But if the charge involve bodily harm, then good-time credit is not available. A defendant serving a sentence for an offense involving bodily harm must serve the whole sentence.

This issue comes up with cases like battery, 720 ILCS 5/12-3, and domestic battery, 720 ILCS 5/12-3.2. Each offense can be charged as either:

  1. Insulting or provoking contact.
  2. Bodily harm.

If the charge is bodily harm, then any jail sentence would have to be served at 100 percent of time.

Any person who is charged with an offense involving bodily harm or great bodily harm should hire an attorney with experience in the defense of both misdemeanor and felony cases.

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