Mayhem is an extremely serious type of assaultive crime where the offender not only inflicts harm on another person but does so with the intent to permanently maim or disfigure that person. The crime is especially heinous because it will leave physical reminders of the assault on the victim’s body for the rest of his or her life. As a result, mayhem is a crime in Michigan that comes with severe penalties upon conviction that include steep fines and incarceration.
MCL 750.397 states “[a]ny person who, with malicious intent to maim or disfigure, shall cut out or maim the tongue, put out or destroy an eye, cut or tear off an ear, cut or slit or mutilate the nose or lip, or cut off or disable a limb, organ or member, of any other person, and every person privy to such intent, who shall be present, aiding in the commission of such offense, shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not more than 10 years, or by fine of not more than 5,000 dollars.”
Mayhem is a specific intent crime that requires the offender to possess the “malicious intent to maim or disfigure”. In addition to the intent, a conviction of mayhem requires proof that there was an actual maiming or disfigurement of a body function. People v Ward, 211 Mich App 489, 493; 536 NW2d 270 (1995). Obviously, judges and juries are not mind-readers and they must infer the “malicious intent” from the facts and circumstances of each case.
In McGhar v. Koehler, 811 F.2d 6060 (1986), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a conviction of mayhem arising out of an altercation in Ann Arbor, Michigan:
- “The facts of this case reveal a particularly vicious and rather bizarre incident. On May 12, 1974, Robert Bennett, the eventual victim, entered an Ann Arbor bar and recognized a friend, Larry Katz, who was sitting with McGhar. Bennett had never met McGhar before. A friend of McGhar’s joined the group, and at about 1:30 a.m. they left to get pizza and beer, which they took to the apartment where Bennett was staying. McGhar’s friend was later asked to leave because McGhar suspected he was planning to steal from the apartment. At about 4:30 or 5:00 a.m., the three who remained left in Bennett’s car to drive Katz home. Bennett agreed to let McGhar stay with him in the apartment, as McGhar had no lodging for the night. Back at the apartment, however, Bennett noticed a marked change in McGhar’s behavior. He asked Bennett where his money was. He began to get more and more aggressive, until he struck Bennett in the mouth, breaking several teeth. McGhar then began a forty-five minute attack on Bennett with a decorative sword that had been hanging on the wall. Bennett had handed McGhar the money in his pocket. McGhar was also searching for money in Bennett’s wallet. He finally left, taking the apartment keys by mistake after looking for Bennett’s car keys. The attack left Bennett mutilated and nearly dead. McGhar was charged with assault with intent to murder (Mich.Comp.Laws Sec. 750.83; Mich.Stat.Ann. Sec. 28.278) and mayhem (Mich.Comp.Laws Sec. 750.397; Mich.Stat.Ann. Sec. 28.629). At trial, McGhar did not take the stand, but his attorney proffered a theory of defense centered on the premise that McGhar lacked the capacity to form the specific intent required to support assault with intent to murder and mayhem because of his state of intoxication.”
- The judge instructed the jury on the mayhem charge and discussed intent as follows: “The question of intent is one that is hard to establish directly because grown persons do not always disclose the object they have in view in any acts in which they may indulge and you have to gather the intent from the character of the act, the circumstances surrounding it, and from conduct of a like character which may appear as tending to aid you in finding and discovering it, but in connection with all this unless the testimony satisfies you of something else, you are warranted in holding a party responsible for the natural, probable and legitimate consequences of his acts. The intent may be inferred from the doing of a wrongful, fraudulent or illegal act, but this inference is not necessarily conclusive. The law presumes that every man intends the legitimate consequences of his own act. Wrongful acts knowingly or intentionally committed, can neither be justified nor excused on the ground of innocent intent. Motive is that which recites or stimulates action. Motive is never an essential element of a crime. It is only material from the fact that it tends to show the state of mind when the act was committed. It is never necessary to show a bad motive to convict one of a crime and on the other hand, the best of motive will not exempt one from criminal responsibility of an illegal act wilfully committed. The fact that a criminal act is wilfully done with an innocent or laudible motive will not excuse it. When an act is defined by law to be an illegal and criminal [sic], everyone is punishable who does the prohibited act without some legal justification or excuse furnished by the action and the circumstances without regard to his real motive and intention.”
Despite the claim of intoxication, the “malicious intent” was found due to the fact that the sword used was a decorative item in the apartment and the defendant proceeded to inflict wounds over 45 minutes that caused the victim’s left arm to be nearly completely severed, the right shoulder and back of the skull to be cut, the right hand to be severely injured, and the left thumb cut off. Given the length of time, the fact that the defendant kept up a conversation with the victim during the onslaught, and the motive to get the victim to open the suitcase to give him money, there was ample evidence for the intent to commit mayhem coupled with the actual disfiguring injuries inflicted.
Mayhem is a very serious criminal offense, but there may be defenses that can be asserted:
- SELF-DEFENSE – Despite how heinous the injuries are, the offender may have been acting in justified self defense. As long as the defendant was not committing a crime at the time he struck back and the force used was necessary and reasonable to stop the aggressor from further attacking (even if resulting in maiming or disfiguring injuries), then a judge or jury could conclude that the defendant should be excused from criminal liability. However, if the defendant was the initial aggressor or the force used was too excessive given the scope of the attack, then the self-defense theory may not apply.
- ALIBI OR MISTAKEN IDENTITY – The defendant may assert that he was in another location at the date and time that the mayhem occurred, provided that there are sufficient witnesses and proper notice to the prosecutor to establish the alibi.
- LEGAL INSANITY – A person may be found not guilty by reason of insanity. A person is legally insane if, as a result of mental illness or intellectual disability, he or she was incapable of understanding the wrongfulness of his or her conduct, or was unable to conform his or her conduct to the requirements of the law. The defendant has the burden of proof to show that he or she was legally insane at the time of the mayhem.
- LACK OF INTENT – Mayhem requires the specific malicious intent to maim and disfigure. If the evidence suggests that the maiming injuries were inflicted in a single assault without the desire to leave lasting damage, then the circumstances may be insufficient for conviction. This is often the case in sudden or violent attacks where the defendant is acting out of a severe emotional response.
- COERCION OR DURESS – If the defendant was forced to inflict mayhem by force at the direction of another, then there may be insufficient criminal liability or mens rea to be culpable of a crime.
A mayhem case often involves the presentation of medical evidence or damning photographs that angers jurors and judges in deciding the case or the appropriate penalty. This is not a charge to be taken lightly! You need a skilled criminal defense lawyer in your corner that will hold the prosecutor to their burden of proof, file all necessary motions and argue persuasively to the court that there was no malicious intent to commit mayhem. Otherwise, your life and your reputation can be destroyed by a conviction for such a terrible crime.
If you or a loved one is charged with any crime or need legal representation, do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC today.