When getting shot isn’t ‘great bodily harm’ in Minnesota

The Minnesota Court of Appeals today agreed with a man who shot his ex-girlfriend that he can’t be convicted of first-degree assault in the state because the bullet he fired into her back didn’t hit any vital organs.

Doctors treating the woman said the bullet traveled 8 inches inside the woman and it “could have hit critical body parts, such as her kidneys, aorta, spinal cord, or heart, and would have been life threatening.”

But it didn’t, and the state law says the bullet had to have caused “great bodily harm,” which the law defines as:

.. bodily injury which creates a high probability of death, or which causes serious permanent disfigurement, or which causes a permanent or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ or other serious bodily harm.

“Close enough” doesn’t cut it, however, so Court of Appeals Judge Michael Kirk rejected a jury’s conviction saying the law has to be applied based on the victim’s injuries, not the actions of Quintin Deshun Dye, the assailant in the December 2013 shooting (pdf opinion).

Here, although a bullet traveled through eight inches of E.G.’s abdomen, it did not hit any critical body parts. When paramedics arrived, E.G. was able to talk, breathe, and walk to the ambulance with some help. She was hospitalized, but, after a small incision was made to remove the bullet, she was released the next day. Although this type of injury could leave a permanent lump and causes persistent pain, because E.G. did not testify, the extent of her pain and whether she has any permanent scarring are unknown. Therefore, the evidence does not support a finding that E.G. suffered other serious bodily injury within the meaning of the statute.

Judge Kirk overturned the sentence and sent Dye’s case back to district court for sentencing on second-degree assault instead.

First-degree assault can net up to a 20-year sentence in Minnesota. Second-degree assault carries a maximum seven year prison term.