By a Philadelphia criminal lawyer
Robbery and related crimes like unlawful possession of a firearm, possession of drugs, drug dealing, etc., are very common in Philadelphia. This is true in both state court and federal court. Also, in federal court in Philadelphia (Eastern District of Pennsylvania), bank robbery charges are very common.
In general, under Pennsylvania’s criminal robbery law, what separates robbery in the first degree from robbery in the second degree is whether the alleged victim suffered a serious injury. Robbery in the first degree usually requires theft plus a serious bodily injury (or threat of serious bodily injury). Robbery in the second degree usually requires theft plus a bodily injury (or threat of bodily injury). Click here to read more about robbery charges in Philadelphia.
One of the most common issues in criminal state court robbery cases in Philadelphia is whether an injury constitutes “serious bodily injury” or “bodily injury.” Whether an injury which results from a robbery is serious or not will affect how the crime is ultimately graded, as a felony in the first degree or second degree.
Criminal Robbery Charges in Philadelphia – What’s the Difference Between Serious Bodily Injury and Bodily Injury?
What is Serious Bodily Injury?
Serious bodily injury is defined under PA law (18 Pa.C.S. Section 2301) as bodily injury that creates a serious risk of death or causes serious permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of any bodily member or organ. In other words, the alleged victim must have suffered an injury that:
- results in a substantial risk of death,
- results in a permanent and serious disfigurement, or
- causes a long term loss or limitation of the use of a body part.
Examples of serious bodily injuries include major broken bones or damage to internal organs. A gunshot or stab wound to the abdomen would probably qualify as a serious bodily injury to sustain a first degree robbery conviction.
What is Bodily Injury?
The definition of serious bodily injury is relatively clear cut. However, the definition of bodily injury is rather vague. Under Section 2301, bodily injury is defined as an injury which causes impairment of a physical condition or substantial pain. Courts in Philadelphia usually employ a commonsense approach when determining whether a given injury constitutes a bodily injury under section 2301.
In 1997, the PA Superior Court in Commonwealth v. Wertelet found that the term bodily injury requires at least a serious interruption in one’s daily life, something more than an everyday, ordinary injury. As an example, the court found that seriously stubbing a toe which causes the nail to fall off does not amount to a bodily injury. In the Wertelet case, the issue was whether kicking an officer in the shin two times constituted bodily injury. The court found that it did not. Basically, the court held that pushing, shoving, slapping, hair pulling, elbowing, etc., without serious interruption in one’s daily life do not constitute bodily injury.
When defending robbery charges in Philadelphia criminal cases, it is important to determine the nature and extent of the physical injuries. At trial, it is often necessary to cross examine the alleged victim to determine whether the injuries were serious, permanent, etc.
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