The Crime of Mayhem in Massachusetts

Mayhem is a crime under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265 Section 14. Although many people think of chaos, disorder or a riot when they hear the word “mayhem,” the legal definition of mayhem is much different. Under law, mayhem means hurting another person to the point that they are disfigured or maimed.

Specifically, the law prohibits maiming, mutilating or crippling someone’s tongue, eye, ear, nose, lip, or limb. In Massachusetts, what constitutes the crime of mayhem has been interpreted extremely broadly. Even injuring a child’s fingernails was found to constitute mayhem. The law also prohibits being present and helping another person to maim or disfigure with knowledge that the other person intended to maim or disfigure.

To convict a defendant of mayhem, the prosecutor is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted with either malicious intent or a specific intent to maim or disfigure, depending upon which of the two possible theories of mayhem the prosecutor proceeds. “Malicious intent” means an evil intent. Essentially, the prosecutor will try to establish that you knew that your actions would cause serious damage to the victim. Specific intent to maim or disfigure may be inferred from the nature of the injuries. It may also be inferred when an attack is drawn out or when a defendant inflicted repeated blows on the victim.

What Does the Prosecutor Have to Prove to Satisfy the Element of a Defendant’s Specific Intent to Maim or Disfigure?

Mayhem requires proof of specific intent to main or disfigure another person; specific intent may be inferred from the nature of the injuries as well as evidence that injuries arose from a sustained or atrocious attack. M.G.L.A. 265, §14. Not every aggravated assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon that results in disabling and serious injuries supports a specific intent to maim or disfigure.

Under Massachusetts case law, the specific intent to maim or disfigure can be established by “direct or inferential proof that the assault was intentional, unjustified, and made with reasonable appreciation on the assailant’s part that a disabling or disfiguring injury would result.” The Massachusetts Appellate Court has stressed that the specific intent is inferred in cases where there are sustained or atrocious attacks.

A favorable case for the defense in this area is Commonwealth v. Cleary, 41 Mass. App. Ct. 214, 218 (1996). In that case, the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that the Government failed to establish that the defendant committed mayhem when he struck the victim in the face with a bladeless ax handle fracturing the victim’s orbital bone, rupturing his eye globe and detaching the victim’s retina of his right eye. The Court explained that the government’s case did not show a sustained or prolonged type of assault from which the requisite intent may be inferred. The Court further stated that it was not a case in which it is apparent from the context of the confrontation that the defendant intended to disfigure someone.

What Penalties Can Be Imposed If a Defendant Is Convicted of This Crime?

If you are convicted of mayhem, you face imprisonment in the state prison for up to 20 years or imprisonment in jail for up to two and one half years and a fine of up to $1,000.

Mayhem will be prosecuted aggressively, since it is one of the more violent and often horrific crimes. If you have been charged with mayhem, you should immediately contact a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney like Kathleen M. McCarthy. Although mayhem is defined very broadly in Massachusetts, it is exceptionally hard to prove that a defendant acted with the requisite mental state. Your chance of success depends upon contacting a lawyer who will put up a strong fight for you. Kathleen M. McCarthy has a lengthy history of success in defending violent crimes of all kinds. She has more than 20 years of criminal legal experience. If you have been charged with mayhem or any other crime, call the Law Offices of Kathleen M. McCarthy at (978) 975 8060 or contact her online today. She will begin to protect your rights without delay.