Under Nevada criminal law, the term “substantial bodily harm” means a physical injury
- that carries a high probability of death;
- that results in severe, long-term disfigurement, organ damage or loss of a bodily function; or
- that causes protracted physical pain.
Inflicting substantial bodily harm on a victim can lead to more serious felony penalties.
Prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you caused the injuries for you to get an increased sentence. You can fight these allegations with medical records and expert testimony showing that the injuries do not qualify as substantial bodily harm.
NRS 0.060 states:
Unless the context otherwise requires, “substantial bodily harm” means:
1. Bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ; or
2. Prolonged physical pain.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is substantial bodily harm in Nevada?
- 2. How do prosecutors prove substantial bodily harm under NRS 0.060?
- 3. When do serious injuries cause harsher penalties?
- 4. How do you fight allegations of causing great bodily harm?
1. What is substantial bodily harm in Nevada?
Substantial bodily harm refers not only to near-lethal or debilitating injuries but also to long-lasting cosmetic damage or chronic pain. Examples might include the following:
- Broken bones or fractures of any bodily member (even though they may fully heal eventually)
- Any injury needing stitches
- Organ damage
- Severe burns (second-degree and third-degree)
- Contusions that last a long time
- Wounds from gunshots or other dangerous weapons
- Brain damage from being drugged with controlled substances
- Losing consciousness
- Scarring and other cosmetic injuries1
Note that serious bodily injuries do not encompass financial harm or emotional harm.2
2. How do prosecutors prove substantial bodily harm under NRS 0.060?
Prosecutors must allege that you caused substantial bodily harm in the complaint, information, or indictment that spells out the criminal charges. Then prosecutors also have the burden at trial to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you caused substantial bodily harm.
The state usually relies on medical records and expert medical testimony in an effort to sway a judge or jury that the injuries warrant a sentencing enhancement.
Nevada judges and juries examine the evidence on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the injury in question falls under the legal definition of substantial bodily harm. Some factors they may take into consideration include:
- How severe the injury is,
- The length of the injury,
- How much pain it causes,
- The amount of medical care it requires, and also
- How the injury was sustained
For instance, a black eye that fades in a few days might not be serious enough under NRS 0.060. But a black eye that lasts for weeks and impairs the victim’s vision probably would.3
3. When do serious injuries cause harsher penalties?
Many Nevada crime laws are written so that prosecutors may bring more serious felony charges if you allegedly caused major physical harm. In sum, below are brief descriptions of seven common crimes where physical injury increases the penalty range:
You face life in Nevada State Prison without the possibility of parole if the kidnapping (NRS 200.320) victim sustains serious harm during the initial taking or any associated detention, confinement, or an attempt to escape.
Otherwise, the maximum sentence for first degree kidnapping is life with the possibility of parole.4
When an adult victim of sexual assault (NRS 200.366) sustains serious bodily harm from the rape, you may be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
If there were no serious injuries, the harshest sentence the judge can hand down is life with the possibility of parole.
3.3. Battery with substantial bodily harm
Battery laws (NRS 200.481) have several different penalty ranges depending on not only whether the battery results in serious injuries but also if a deadly weapon was used or if a child was involved.
Regular adult-on-adult battery with substantial bodily harm without weapons may result in
- a prison term of one to five years and
- a fine of $10,000.
But if there are no major injuries, battery charges are only misdemeanors (“simple battery”) carrying up to six months in jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines.
Note that assault crimes (NRS 200.471) do not carry increased penalties for substantial bodily harm. This is because by definition, assault does not involve physical touching – just putting others in the apprehension of being physically harmed.
Assault penalties are enhanced if you were an inmate, probationer, or parolee, or if you committed assault with a deadly weapon.
Also note that attempted murder does not carry increased penalties for substantial bodily harm either. If the victim does sustain serious injuries from the attempted murder, prosecutors would simply prosecute you for battery with substantial bodily harm in addition to attempted murder.5
3.4. Battery domestic violence
Battery domestic violence (NRS 200.485) is usually a misdemeanor as long as you cause no injuries (and there was no strangulation or use of a deadly weapon). But if you did allegedly cause serious harm, even a first offense becomes a category B felony. The penalty for felony domestic battery is
- one to six years in prison and
- a fine of $1,000 to $5,000.
3.5. Child abuse, neglect or endangerment
Child abuse, neglect or endangerment laws (NRS 200.508) mandate very severe penalties for serious bodily harm even if it resulted from neglect rather than direct physical abuse. A typical neglect conviction without harm is a gross misdemeanor carrying
- up to 364 days in jail and/or
- up to $2,000 in fines.
But if substantial bodily harm (or mental harm) occurred, the sentencing range for child neglect is two to twenty years in prison.
3.6. Aggravated stalking
If you are charged with aggravated stalking (NRS 200.575), you face increased penalties merely for making the victim fear serious bodily harm. The penalties range from
- two to fifteen years in prison and
- a fine of up to $5,000.
But if the victim is not apprehensive about being hurt, stalking is only a misdemeanor carrying
- up to six months in jail and/or
- up to $1,000 in fines.
- two to twenty years in prison,
- a $2,000 to $5,000 fine, and
- a three-year license suspension.
And probation would not be available for a DUI felony offense.
4. How do you fight allegations of causing great bodily harm?
One way to fight the charges is to show the injuries are not substantial. Your criminal defense attorney would search for
- health care /medical records and
- medical expert testimony to support this.
And your attorney would also research any past criminal cases that concerned injuries similar to the ones in the present case. If the injuries in those cases were ruled unsubstantial, the district attorney in the present case may be persuaded to lessen your charges.
In addition, your criminal defense attorney would potentially rely on other common defenses to fight the underlying charge. These could include:
- You were falsely accused;
- You acted in self-defense;
- The incident was an accident;
- The injuries were not a direct result of your actions; and/or also
- The police officers committed misconduct (such as a law enforcement officer coercing a confession of conducting an illegal search)
If the underlying charge gets dismissed, then the sentencing enhancement for substantial bodily harm would be dropped as well.
The best defenses in a particular case always depend on the unique facts and available evidence. And a charge does not guarantee a conviction.
Your attorney may be able to convince the prosecutors during negotiations to reduce or drop the charges.
For additional assistance…
Our Las Vegas, NV, criminal law firm practices throughout Clark County, including Henderson, and the state of Nevada. Contact our criminal defense lawyers for legal advice. Our law office fights charges of drug possession, violent crimes, drunk driving, and related offenses.
In California? Then also see our article on great bodily injury (Penal Code 12022.7 PC).
In Colorado? Then also see our article about serious bodily injury (CRS 18.1.901(2)(p)).
- See also Levi v. State (1979) 602 P.2d 189. Also see Woods v. State, (1998) 114 Nev. 468, 958 P.2d 91.
- Nevada Revised Statute 0.060 subsections 1 & 2; see also Hardaway v. State, (Nevada Supreme Court, 1996) 112 Nev. 1208, 926 P.2d 288. Also see Sweat v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court of Nev., (2017) 403 P.3d 353, 133 Nev. Adv. Rep. 76.
- See same; also see LaChance v. State, (2014) 321 P.3d 919, 130 Nev. Adv. Rep. 29.
- See also McNamara v. State, (2016) 377 P.3d 106, 132 Nev. Adv. Rep. 60.
- See, for example, Feazeal v. State (2019) 445 P.3d 856 (unpublished).