Is there a two-blow rule for a bare-knuckled fight, before it counts as unlawful wounding?
The question arises from today’s reversal of an unlawful wounding conviction by the Virginia Court of Appeals in Worrell v. Commonwealth. Defendant Demonte Worrell’s actions were limited to landing a single punch on the face of the victim, Larry Donnell. Worrell had accused Donnell of breaking into a woman’s house, according to the court’s unpublished opinion.
“Almost every case involving bare fists where either the Supreme Court of Virginia or this Court has held the evidence sufficient to support an inference of intent to cause permanent bodily injury has involved multiple blows delivered in particularly violent and brutal settings,” wrote Judge William G. Petty
A Portsmouth Circuit Court convicted Worrell under Virginia Code § 18.2-51. After Worrell punched Donnell, Donnell fell to the ground and suffered other injuries from “unknown persons,” the opinion said.
Donnell suffered significant injuries, and the commonwealth charged Worrell with aggravated malicious wounding. But the court, after a bench trial, convicted him of the lesser-included charge of unlawful wounding.
In a 2008 case, Johnson v. Commonwealth, the appellate court found that a single blow with the fist supported an inference of intent to permanently injure. There, the attack was unprovoked and the victim was unprepared. The blow was so forceful, the victim suffered a concussion, two cuts in his ear and soreness in his shoulder. And the defendant struck the victim so hard, they both fell to the ground from the force of the blow. This altercation went beyond a “normal fistfight.”
In Worrell’s case, the trial court found there was no concert of action or any proven nexus between Worrell’s initial punch and the acts of other unknown persons who injured Donnell. With only the punch, the appellate court said the facts of Worrell’s case did not rise to the level of uncommon violence and brutality present in Johnson.
Here, there is “simply an isolated blow delivered by Worrell, and there are no serious injuries directly traceable to that specific blow,” Petty wrote.
The court reversed the unlawful wounding conviction and remanded the case for possible trial on the lesser-included offense of assault and battery.
By Deborah Elkins