Assault—Great Bodily Harm (GBH)

Assault GBH

Lansing Michigan Assault Defense Attorney

Assault with intent to commit great bodily harm, aka Assault GBH or GBH, is a serious felony assault charge that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and $5,000 in fines. If charged as an habitual offender, you could be facing up to life in prison. It is a more serious charge than felonious assault or assault with a deadly weapon. Essentially, it is when someone assaults or intends to assault or injure another person with the intent to inflict great bodily harm, but less than murder.


What the Prosecutor Must Prove


In order to convict someone of great bodily harm, the prosecutor must prove each of the following elements beyond all reasonable doubt.


  • Defendant tried to injure another person


  • Defendant had the ability to cause that injury or the complaining witness reasonably believed that he had that ability


  • Defendant intended to cause great bodily harm (but did not intend to kill them)


Actual Injury Not Required


Actual injury is not required for GBH. The defendant doesn’t even have to touch the other person. Intent to cause great bodily harm is the key element. Injury can be considered as evidence in deciding if defendant had the requisite criminal intent.


What is Great Bodily Harm


Great bodily harm is any physical injury that could seriously harm the health of a function of the body. It can include serious internal injuries, serious burns, severe cuts, poisoning, or multiple puncture wounds. Testimony of medical experts may be needed to prove this crucial element.


Defenses to Assault—Great Bodily Harm


  • Self-Defense—This is the most common. You have the right to use physical force to protect yourself against the threat of unlawful force or harm, provided the perception of the imminent unlawful force or harm is reasonable and you were not the aggressor or provoker.


  • Defense of Others—This is similar to self-defense and the same limitations apply. You can use physical force to defend someone else against unlawful force or harm if it is reasonable.


  • Defense of Property—Using physical force to defend or protect property is generally not allowed. One exception is when the property is stolen directly (pick pocket, purse snatcher). Then you can use reasonable force that is necessary to retrieve the property.


  • Consent—If the complaining witness gives consent or permission to the act, then defendant cannot be convicted. Be careful about not exceeding the scope of the permission. Also, be mindful that consent in all circumstances might not be a valid defense as it could violate public policy.


Prior Acts of Domestic Violence


Normally, the rules of evidence prevents the prosecutor from introducing evidence of “prior bad acts” to show “action in conformity” with those prior bad acts. In other words, the prosecutor could not introduce evidence to the jury that since the defendant acted violently toward other people in the past, then they could use that to conclude that he acted violently on this occasion.  The court system wants juries to decide cases based upon the evidence presented on the current charge and not to be prejudiced by the defendant’s past bad behavior. Essentially, we don’t want the jury to conclude that since the defendant behaved badly in the past then that means he probably acted badly on this occasion. That is why that type of evidence is normally not allowed unless it meets one of the exceptions.


However, for assault charges, Michigan law allows prosecutors to do just that. Under MCL 768.27b, upon serving the defendant with notice of the particular prior bad acts, prosecutors can introduce evidence of past allegations of domestic violence to prove that the defendant is a violent character. Mere allegations are permitted, even if they did not result in arrests or charges being brought. These may even be allegations that you have never heard before. If that occurs, you need an Michigan assault defense lawyer to file motions against this evidence, if necessary, or to effectively cross-examine witnesses on these allegations that may have just surfaced, and to make sure the jury understands their limited purpose as evidence.


Plea Negotiations


Plea negotiations will depend heavily on a number of factors. Plea options will be effected by how strong or how weak the case is against you, how adamant the complaining witness or victim is, if you have any prior offenses, how severe the injury was, and if you have any prior assault convictions. Pleading to a lesser charge of felonious assault may be a good option if the case against you is strong or you are an habitual offender. In other cases, reducing the charge to a simple assault and battery or domestic violence might be a better option. If you have no prior domestic violence convictions, you may be eligible for deferred sentencing under 769 which would keep the matter off your public record.


If no good plea offers are available to you or if you assert your innocence, the case may have to go to trial. You need someone with experience in trying assault cases who is not afraid to litigate. Many of these cases go to trial for a variety of reasons. You need an aggressive advocate to cross-examine witnesses for contradictions, bias, and inconsistencies. Prosecutors often over-charge these cases so you need a criminal defense lawyer who is not afraid to stand up to prosecutors when they do. It is not unusual for a domestic violence or simple assault and battery case to be transformed from a misdemeanor to a serious felony.


If you have been charged with assault with intent to commit great bodily harm, contact Austin Legal Services, PLC today at (517) 614-1983 to speak to a Michigan assault defense lawyer.


Defending assault charges throughout Michigan in the counties of Ingham, Eaton, Clinton, Gratiot, Shiawassee, Jackson, Barry, Livingston, Washtenaw, Kent in the cities of Lansing, East Lansing, Mason, Charlotte, St. Johns, Ithaca, Jackson, Corunna, Hastings, Brighton, Howell, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids.