In criminal prosecutions, the term great bodily injury refers to serious physical injuries such as
- broken bones,
- gunshot wounds,
- contusions, and
- second and third-degree burns.
Great bodily injury does not include
- less serious injuries,
- emotional scarring, or
- financial losses.
California Penal Code § 12022.7 PC sets forth a sentencing enhancement that applies in certain felony cases. The enhancement allows a judge or jury to impose additional prison time if the perpetrator inflicts great bodily injury on a victim in the commission of the underlying felony crime.
This enhancement means the defendant serves an additional term in state prison of three to six years. This is a consecutive term, meaning the defendant must serve it immediately after he/she completes the prison time for the underlying offense. Again, this penal code section only applies to great bodily harm in the commission of a felony (for example, it does not apply to misdemeanors).
Note that California criminal law makes a distinction between:
- great bodily injury, and
- serious bodily injury.
While the first leads to a sentencing enhancement in felony offense cases, serious injury findings are used in cases of criminal battery. This means:
- if a defendant commits the crime of battery, and
- causes serious injury to the “victim” in doing so, then
- he/she can be charged with aggravated battery, per Penal Code 243d PC.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. What is great bodily injury under Penal Code 12022.7 PC?
- 2. What are some examples of great bodily injury?
- 3. What are some injuries that do not count as great bodily injuries?
- 4. How long is the term of imprisonment under this enhancement?
- 5. What is the difference between great bodily injury and serious bodily injury?
1. What is great bodily injury under Penal Code 12022.7 PC?
California law says that “great bodily injury” (often referred to as “GBI”) means just what it says – “great” injury to a person’s body. “Great” here means:
- a significant injury, or
- a substantial physical injury.1
It is an injury that is greater than minor or moderate harm.2
Note that these types of injuries are limited to physical harm, and do not include:
- emotional scars, or
- financial losses.3
While GBI includes major traumas, like brain damage and paralysis, a significant injury does not necessarily have to be:
- permanent, or
Note also that the defendant must have personally inflicted the great bodily injury for the GBI enhancement to apply.5
In the end, the determination as to whether an injury is “great” is largely made on a case-by-case basis. Judges and juries consider some of the following factors to decide the issue:
- the severity of the injury,
- the resulting physical pain to the “victim,” and
- if the injury required immediate medical care.6
Example: John and Paul are neighbors in Los Angeles. They get into a heated argument, and at one point, John picks up a bat and hits Paul at full force in the shoulder. A police officer arrests Paul and he is later charged with battery, per California Penal Code 242.
After the incident, Paul immediately went to the ER and received treatment. Doctors later diagnosed him with “frozen shoulder.” The injury took over a year to mend and Paul endured much pain.
Here, the facts show beyond a reasonable doubt that John caused a GBI. He required immediate medical care and he had to endure months of pain. John also caused an injury that caused a significant amount of treatment time. And John’s actions were not justified (for instance, he did not act in self-defense.)
Some common offenses often associated with great bodily injuries are:
- elder abuse, per Penal Code 368,
- domestic violence offenses,
- DUI causing injury, per Vehicle Code 23153,
- assault with a deadly weapon, per Penal Code 245 a1, and
- certain sex crimes.
This California penal code section does not apply to the following offenses:
- arson, per Penal Code 451,
- reckless burning, per Penal Code 452,
- crimes where causing GBI is an element of the offense,
- murder, per Penal Code 187, or
- manslaughter, per Penal Code 192.7
As to the murder and manslaughter exception, though, note that the enhancement does apply in drug cases, when:
- the defendant gives a party an illegal drug, and
- that party subsequently dies from it.8
2. What are some examples of great bodily injury?
The following are a few examples of injuries where a California court imposed a GBI enhancement:
- a dog bite9,
- broken bones (including bone fractures)10,
- a black, swollen eye with bruising11,
- blistering and second-degree burns12,
- contusions, swelling, and severe discoloration13,
- bloody knees, abrasions, and vaginal soreness resulting from a rape14,
- almost passing out due to strangulation15,
- gunshot wounds.16
Based on the above, it is likely that the following would also be considered great bodily injuries:
- nervous system injuries, and
- complete loss of motor functions.
3. What are some injuries that do not count as great bodily injuries?
The following are examples where the court said it would not impose a GBI enhancement.
- pregnancy, as the result of a rape where the defendant did not intend to impregnate the victim17,
- a minor laceration on the victim’s neck caused by a stabbing18, and
- injuries that a defendant directs, encourages, or facilitates, but did not personally inflict.19
4. How long is the term of imprisonment under this enhancement?
PC 12022.7 is a sentencing enhancement. This means if a defendant caused GBI in the commission of a felony, he/she will face a consecutive three to six years in state prison (as opposed to county jail) for the felony conviction. This term is in addition to the California state prison sentence the felon must serve for the underlying offense.
The exact length of the great bodily injury enhancement will depend on the facts of the case.
The statute itself provides guidance.
- Penal Code 12022.7a states the general rule that great bodily injury will result in an additional and consecutive prison term of three years.
- Penal Code 12022.7b says that a defendant causing the victim to become comatose due to brain injury or to suffer paralysis will face an additional and consecutive term of up to five years.
- Penal Code 12022.7c imposes an additional prison term of up to five years if GBI is inflicted on someone 70 years of age or older.
- Penal Code 12022.7d says that a defendant can face a maximum of six additional years in prison if he/she caused great bodily injury to a child under the age of five.
- Penal Code 12022.7e says that a person inflicting GBI in domestic violence cases will face an additional and consecutive prison term of up to five years.
In addition, GBI offenses count as a strike under California’s three-strikes law.
5. What is the difference between great bodily injury and serious bodily injury?
California criminal law makes a distinction between “great bodily injury” and “serious bodily injury.”
As discussed above, GBI determinations lead to jury instructions that allow for enhanced sentences in felony cases.
A “serious injury” determination is used in cases of criminal battery. This means:
- if a defendant caused serious injury to another person, and
- did so while committing the crime of battery, then
- he/she can be charged with aggravated battery, per Penal Code 243d.
The infliction of a serious injury is less extreme than an injury involving great bodily injury. It means an impairment to a physical condition.20 This means more moderate injuries.
Some examples are:
- a concussion,
- a loss of consciousness, and
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a California criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at Shouse Law Group. We provide free consultations throughout Los Angeles County, Orange County, Ventura, and throughout the state of California.
- California Penal Code 12022.7f PC.
- CALCRIM No. 3160 – Great Bodily Injury. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition).
- People v. Escobar (1992) 3 Cal.4th 740.
- See same.
- People v. Lee (2003) 31 Cal.4th 613.
- People v. Medellin (2020) 45 Cal.App.5th 519. See also People v. Cross (2008) 45 Cal.4th 58.
- California Penal Code 12022.7g PC. As to murder and manslaughter exception, see People v. Cook (2015) 60 Cal.4th 922; and, People v. Lamb (2017) 8 Cal.App.5th 137.
- See, for example, People v. Ollo (2019) 42 Cal.App.5th 1152.
- People v. Frazier (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 613.
- People v. Johnson (1980) 104 Cal.App.3d 598.
- People v. Muniz (1989) 213 Cal.App.3d 1508.
- People v. Harvey (1992) 7 Cal.App.4th 823.
- People v. Jaramillo (1979) 98 Cal.App.3d 830.
- People v. Escobar, supra.
- People v. Mixon (1990) 225 Cal.App.3d 1471.
- People v. Mendias (1993) 17 Cal.App.4th 195.
- People v. Superior Court (Duval) (1988) 198 Cal.App.3d 1121.
- People v. Martinez (1985) 171 Cal.App.3d 727.
- People v. Cole (1982) 31 Cal.3d 568.
- CALCRIM No. 925 – Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition).
- See same.