DEFINING “DISFIGUREMENT” FOR AN AGGRAVATED BATTERY CHARGE
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
State v. Moore, 2001, 23 P.3d 815, 271 Kan. 416, on remand 28 P.3d 1064
This case addresses the following issue:
What is the definition of “disfigurement” for an aggravated battery charge?
The defendant, Larry Moore, was charged with one count of rape, one count of aggravated assault, one count of aggravated battery for attacking his wife, T.M., and one count of criminal threat for threatening his 6-year-old son, L.C.M. The Kansas Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the defendant’s conviction of aggravated battery of his girlfriend. Id. at 817
The facts established that the defendant met T.M. in October 1997.T.M. began staying in one of the defendant’s houses. T.M. testified that she was ironing a pair of jeans one day when the defendant came into the room. Id. The defendant was upset because T.M. had returned two chainsaws that another person had given the defendant in exchange for drugs. The defendant grabbed the iron and burned her legs. He then lifted her shirt, burned her breast, and dropped the iron between her legs, burning her inner thighs. Id. at 818.
Photographs admitted into evidence taken 5 days after the incident and again 4 weeks after the incident showed burn marks on T.M.’s legs and inner thighs. The photographs also showed an iron-shaped mark on her breast. Id. Police officer Laurence Wade testified that he examined T.M.’s injuries approximately 1 month after the incident. According to him, there was a mark on her breast that was still healing or was possibly a permanent scar. T.M. testified that she had scars on her inner thighs but was not asked and did not comment on whether she had permanent scars on her breast or legs. Id. at 818.
Moore was charged under K.S.A. 21-3414(a)(1)(A), which defines aggravated battery as intentionally causing great bodily harm to another person or disfigurement of another person. “Simple battery is a lesser included offense of aggravated battery and is defined as intentionally or recklessly causing bodily harm to another person.” K.S.A.2000 Supp. 21-3412. The critical difference between the two offenses lies in the harm caused. Id. Aggravated battery involves “great bodily harm” or “disfigurement,” while simple battery involves “bodily harm” only. The trial court determined that the victim’s injuries constituted disfigurement. However, when instructing the jury on the aggravated battery, the trial court instructed on both “great bodily harm” and “disfigurement.” Id. In other words, the jury could have found the defendant intentionally inflicted either great bodily harm or disfigurement in finding him guilty of aggravated battery. Thus, the Kansas Supreme Court considered both “disfigurement” and “great bodily harm” in resolving the issue presented. Id.
Kansas cases have distinguished great bodily harm from bodily harm, noting the term “great” distinguishes the bodily harm necessary from slight, trivial, minor, or moderate harm, and does not include mere bruising, which is likely to be sustained by simple battery. Id. The same is true about “disfigurement.” “Disfigurement” has no single technical meaning or single definition and should be considered in the ordinary sense. Id. When an injury has been established, the question of whether it constitutes great bodily harm or disfigurement is normally a question to be determined by the trier of fact. Id.
“It is clear that the injuries to T.M. in this case were not trivial, minor, or in the nature of bruising. The question is whether a reasonable jury could have found that the injuries constituted “moderate” harm, which would necessitate a giving of a simple battery instruction.” Id. at 819.
“The Court concluded, based on the evidence presented, including the photographs, that no reasonable jury could have found the injuries to constitute moderate harm. Rather, the offense if committed, was clearly of the higher degree, and the trial court did not err in failing to give an instruction on the lesser offense of simple battery, as there was simply no evidence from which a reasonable jury could have convicted the defendant of that offense.” Id.