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Mayhem in Massachusetts

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Mayhem in Massachusetts is governed by G.L. c. 265, §14 and generally involves the intentional infliction of severe bodily harm or disfigurement upon another person. Mayhem cases usually involve extended attacks causing grievous bodily harm. This conduct is punished much more severely than assault and battery.

Elements of Mayhem

The mayhem statute covers three different situations: The first being the defendant causes specific types of injuries and the other is where the defendant causes general injuries with a dangerous weapon or substance. The third one is where a defendant did not physically inflict the harm (either specific injuries or general injuries with a dangerous weapon or substance) themself, but was “privy” to someone else’s intent to do so or was present and aided in the commission of the crime. It is crucial to understand the elements the prosecution is required to prove in order to find the defendant guilty of mayhem under each of these three theories.

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Type 1: Specific Injuries

The Commonwealth bears the responsibility of demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did both of the following to secure a mayhem conviction:

  1. Cut out or maimed the tongue; put out or destroyed an eye; cut or tore off an ear; cut slit, or mutilated the nose or lip; or cut off or disabled a limb or member of the alleged victim; and
  2. Maliciously intended to maim or disfigure the alleged victim

In addition to showing that the defendant partook in one of the specified acts above, the Commonwealth must show that they did so with “malicious” intent. “Intent” refers to a person’s objectives or purposes. To succeed on a mayhem prosecution alleging specific injuries, the Commonwealth must show that the defendant possessed the intent maim or disfigure. “Maim” is not defined in the statute but has been understood in Massachusetts case law as meaning to disable, wound, or cause bodily hurt or disfigurement to the body.

While this conduct is often severe, it need not be. For example, burns caused by a lit cigarette may constitute maiming. In other words, then, the Commonwealth must prove that the defendant understood that a disabling, wounding, or disfiguring injury would result from their action and that they meant to cause that result. This depends on the specific circumstances of the case, including the nature of the injuries. Such intent may be established by showing that the defendant intended to cause serious bodily injury.

Type 2: General Injuries with a Dangerous Weapon

It falls upon the Commonwealth to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant:

  1. Assaulted the alleged victim;
  2. Did so by means of a dangerous weapon, substance, or chemical;
  3. Maliciously intended to maim or disfigure the alleged victim; and
  4. The alleged victim was disfigured, crippled, or suffered serious or permanent physical injury as a result.

The first two elements under this theory require that the defendant assaulted the alleged victim with a dangerous weapon. An assault can be either an attempt to use force on another person or a demonstration or display of an intent to use force. A dangerous weapon is anything that can produce death or great bodily harm, even if it is something that is only dangerous because of the way in which it is used.

The third element under this theory is identical to the malicious intent requirement under a specific injury theory of mayhem. The final element under this theory requires that the alleged victim was disfigured, crippled, or severely injured—though not that the alleged victim suffered any specific type of injury, as above. Neither “crippled” nor “disfigured” are defined in the statute. The former has been defined as meaning to deprive of the use of a limb or to lame or deprive of strength. The latter has generally been defined as meaning to impair or injure the appearance of a person by mutilating certain parts of the body. Importantly, even if the alleged victim completely recovers from their injuries, the jury may still find that the defendant disfigured, crippled, or inflicted serious physical injuries—the injuries do not have to be permanent.

Type 3: Privy or Present

The Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant:

  1. Was “privy” to someone else’s intent to commit mayhem; or
  2. Was present and aided in the commission of this crime

On a theory of privity, the prosecution must show that the defendant was aware of or shared in another person’s intent to commit mayhem. The knowledge that another person would commit an assault that may end in injuries covered by the mayhem statute is not enough. For example, a defendant’s knowledge that his associates would beat the alleged victim with clubs was insufficient to show that he was aware of or shared in the associates’ intent to maim or disfigure the alleged victim.

Finally, the Commonwealth may obtain a mayhem conviction even where the defendant was not privy to someone else’s intent to maim or disfigure (i.e., commit mayhem) if the defendant was present at the scene and aided in the commission of the crime. Either of these sub-theories can be applied in situations where there were specific injuries or general injuries with a dangerous weapon.

Criminal Penalties for Mayhem

Mayhem is a serious felony in Massachusetts. If found guilty, the penalties are:

State Prison: Not more than 20 years; OR
Jail: Not more than 2.5 years (30 months) AND
Fine: Not more than $1,000

The collateral consequences of a conviction can also affect and impact your personal and professional life.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Regarding Mayhem in MA

Can I be Charged with Mayhem if it was Accidental?

Probable cause to arrest or to charge someone is a low bar: as a variation of the old saying goes, “the prosecution can indict a ham sandwich.” Thus, while it is possible to be charged with mayhem even where the injuries were inflicted accidentally, the absence of an intent to maim or disfigure will go a long way to leading to a favorable disposition at or prior to trial.

As discussed above, to obtain a conviction on a mayhem prosecution, the Commonwealth would need to prove at trial that the defendant not only took action that resulted in certain injuries to the alleged victim (either specific types of injuries or general injuries resulting from the use of a dangerous weapon), but that the defendant took such actions with the intent to maim or disfigure the alleged victim. While intent can be inferred from the circumstances of the attack, including the extent and nature of the alleged victim’s injuries or an absence of justification, it would be a heavy lift for the prosecution—though not impossible—if the injuries were truly inflicted accidentally.

Can I be Found Guilty of Mayhem if the Alleged Victim Doesn’t Want to Press Charges?

As always, this will depend on the factual circumstances of the case. The alleged victim’s testimony is usually crucial in a mayhem—or any variation of assault and battery—prosecution, and it’s possible that the Commonwealth may not be able to succeed at trial without it. However, it is not hard to imagine a situation where the prosecution does not need such testimony.

As discussed, the defendant’s intent to maim or disfigure can be inferred from the circumstances of the case, including the length of the attack and the extent of the alleged victim’s injuries. If the Commonwealth has evidence that the alleged victim suffered one of the specific injuries prohibited by the statute (or general injuries inflicted with a dangerous weapon or substance), in combination with evidence that would allow intent to maim or disfigure to be inferred (coming from, for example, other eyewitness testimony describing the length and nature of the attack or the medical records and photographs of the alleged victim), the alleged victim’s testimony may not be needed.

Is it Possible to Negotiate a Plea Deal in a Mayhem Case?

Theoretically, yes. However, mayhem is considered such a serious charge that the prosecution will almost certainly be seeking some sort of jail time given the usually heinous nature of the injuries and the potential twenty-year maximum state prison sentence. An alternative to a plea deal is requesting that the prosecution amend the mayhem charge down to a less serious charge like assault and battery causing serious bodily injury if there was a lack of intent to maim or disfigure. If a plea deal is unfavorable and any attempts to reduce the charge—or make it go away through a pre-trial motion to dismiss—are unsuccessful, the best and usual defense at trial relates to attacking the prosecution’s efforts to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to maim or disfigure the alleged victim.

How Long Does a Mayhem Case Typically Take to Resolve?

This will depend on the circumstances of the case and the client’s goals. For example, if the client has a strong case that the injuries to the alleged victim were not inflicted with the required malicious intent, the case may necessarily need to go to trial. On the other end of the spectrum, if the defendant is dead to rights and wishes to enter a slightly-more-favorable plea rather than rolling the dice at trial, the case may be resolved relatively quickly. But in general, if the case is being taken to trial—as is usually required—felony charges can take significant time. This can range from six months to a year-plus in district court and even multiple years in superior court.

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Let Us Help You With Your Mayhem Charge

Mayhem is a serious criminal charge in MA. If you or a loved one are facing allegations of mayhem, it’s crucial to understand the intricacies of the charge and the potentially life-altering consequences. In such complex and high-stakes cases, you need the expertise and strategic defense of competent and zealous criminal defense attorneys who will fight tirelessly to protect your rights and provide you with the strongest defense possible.

At Nate Amendola Defense, we will thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident, examine all the evidence, consult with medical experts, and employ top-notch defense strategies tailored to your case. Our goal is to vigorously challenge the prosecution’s case and strive for the best possible outcome for you.

Contact our firm today, either online or by direct call at 781-650-3177, for a confidential consultation, and let us provide you with the skilled legal representation and unwavering support you deserve during this challenging time.