Official Blog of the Education Exchange Corps

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Missouri Assault Law: New Definition of Physical Injury Makes It Harder to Prove

I've posted about the changes in Missouri assault law as they pertain to kids in school. I've also posted about how the juvenile justice system works.

This post compares the changes in the definition of "physical injury" in Missouri criminal law.

Each crime is defined under the law, and each type of assault has its own definition (in 2017, we will have Assault 1st, Assault 2nd, Assault 3rd, and Assault 4th). These definitions are important because they include the requirements of what a prosecutor must prove - beyond a reasonable doubt - to convict a defendant of a crime.

Let's look at the definition of Assault 1st as it will be in 2017:
"A person commits the offense of assault in the first degree if he or she attempts to kill or knowingly causes or attempts to cause serious physical injury to another person." RSMo 556.050.1.

One way to commit Assault 1st is to knowingly cause or attempt to cause "serious physical injury."

To commit Assault 3rd (the one everyone is talking about), you don't need to cause serious physical injury. You just need to knowingly cause "physical injury." No serious needed.

What qualifies as serious or regular physical injury?

That's defined in another part of the law. And the definition has changed for 2017. So here's a chart:

Nothing has changed about serious physical injury. But the definition of physical injury has changed. (Unfortunately, it appears that the old versions of these statutes are being deleted off of the state's website to make room for the new ones. You can see the old definition on this website or in this court case.)

Starting in 2017, physical injury will include less violence than it once did. In 2017, causing "physical pain" will no longer be enough. Causing "illness" will no longer be enough either. And "any impairment of physical condition" has been limited down to an impairment of body functions or temporary loss of use of a body part.

So, in 2017, you've got to do something worse than the minimum you had to do before 2017 to be convicted of a crime requiring a "physical injury." The new definition has raised the bar on what counts as "physical injury."

This new definition will make it harder for a prosecutor to prove that defendants caused a physical injury to someone, which will make it harder for the prosecutor to prove certain crimes occurred.

When it comes to kids who do make it into criminal court, this new definition will make it harder for kids to be convicted of the new Assault 3rd for school fights.

Bottom line: Law enforcement, school staff, and others should not be using this new definition to refer more kids to the juvenile or criminal justice systems.

And again, even with this new definition, kids are still facing tremendous obstacles to success. We have to do better.

In the coming days, we will put out potential steps folks and organizations can consider taking to
address at least some of those obstacles.

(Click here for our first blog post about the changes in the assault laws.)
(Click here for our blog post on the juvenile justice system.)
(Click here for our blog post on school reporting requirements.)
(Click here for our blog post on the harassment law.)

Elad Gross is a former Assistant Attorney General of Missouri. He graduated from Washington University School of Law. 

This blog post is not meant to provide legal advice. If you are in need of legal assistance, please contact an attorney.

Elad Gross, J.D.
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps


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