Nevada law defines substantial bodily harm as “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
prolonged 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 the defendant caused the injuries in order for the defendant to get an increased sentence. Defendants can fight these allegations with medical records and expert testimony showing that the injuries do not qualify as substantial bodily harm.
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 fracture 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 these serious 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 the defendant caused substantial bodily harm in the complaint, information, or indictment that spells out the criminal charges. Then prosecutors have the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant 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
- How long it lasted / is lasting
- How much pain it causes
- How much medical care it requires
- 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 the suspect allegedly caused major physical harm. Below are brief descriptions of seven common crimes where physical injury increases the penalty range:
Defendants 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 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, the suspect may be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. But if there were no serious injuries, the harshest sentence the judge can hand down is for 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 maybe 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 the defendant was an inmate, probationer, or a parolee, or if the defendant 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 the defendant for battery with substantial bodily harm in addition to attempt murder.
3.4. Battery domestic violence
Battery domestic violence (NRS 200.485) is usually a misdemeanor as long as the assailant causes no injuries (and there was no strangulation or use of a deadly weapon). But if the defendant did allegedly cause serious harm, the penalty for domestic battery is one to six years in prison and possibly 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
Defendants charged with aggravated stalking (NRS 200.575) face increased penalties merely for making the victim fear serious bodily harm. The penalties range from two to fifteen years in prison and maybe a $5,000 fine. 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.
Driving under the influence is typically a misdemeanor, with first-timers usually able to avoid jail. But DUI causing injury (NRS 484C.430) is a felony, carrying two to twenty years, prison, a $2,000 to $5,000 fine, and a three-year license suspension.
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. The criminal defense attorney would search for health care /medical records and medical expert testimony to support this. And the 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 the charges.
In addition, the criminal defense attorney would potentially rely on other common defenses to fight the underlying charge. These could include:
- The defendant was falsely accused;
- The defendant acted in self-defense;
- The incident was an accident;
- The injuries were not a direct result of the defendant’s actions; and/or
- The police officers committed misconduct
If the underlying charge gets dismissed, then the sentencing enhancement for substantial bodily harm would be dropped as well.
Our law office is based in Las Vegas, NV. But we create attorney-client relationships throughout Clark County, including Henderson, and the state of Nevada.
In California? Read our article on great bodily injury (Penal Code 12022.7).
In Colorado? Read our article about serious bodily injury (CRS 18.1.901(2)(p)).