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VOL. 36 | NO. 33 | Friday, August 17, 2012

Court toughens standard for serious bodily injury

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NASHVILLE (AP) — The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that a gunshot wound isn't necessarily the same as a serious bodily injury.

The court clarified the legal standards in an opinion published Wednesday in the case of two men found guilty of especially aggravated robbery for shooting a man in the leg during a 2008 Memphis holdup.

The victim, Terrell Westbrooks, was shot while trying to flee two robbers who burst into an apartment where he and a friend were illegally buying prescription painkillers, according to the opinion.

Westbrooks testified during the trial that he didn't at first realize he was hit by what he called "a straight shot, you know, just tore straight through." He was treated at a hospital and dismissed within an hour or so.

The opinion written by Justice Sharon G. Lee said the prosecution failed to show that Westbrooks was at risk of dying, lost consciousness or suffered extreme pain, disfigurement or substantial impairment. Those are the standards spelled out in the state statutes that define serious bodily injury.

The court threw out the especially aggravated robbery convictions for Anthony Clark and Michael Farmer. It ordered the trial court to sentence the two on the less serious charge of aggravated robbery.

In a concurring opinion, Justice William C. Koch Jr. said the case demonstrated the need for criminal prosecutions to use expert medical testimony when trying to prove serious bodily injury.

"We should candidly acknowledge that some injuries which appear bloody and gruesome to laypersons may not have a substantial risk of death, while other injuries that are seemingly benign might, in fact, pose a substantial risk of death," Koch wrote.