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Bodily Injury Enhancement in Federal Guidelines Requires Significant Injury

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that injuries sustained by a jail guard were insufficient to sustain a two-level sentence enhancement for bodily injury. While imprisoned at Utah’s Weber County Jail on November 21, 2004, federal prisoner Francisco Mejia-Canales ignored a guard’s order to cease walking away. When the guard reached out to impede further progress, Mejia-Canales turned and struck the guard twice with his fist, once in the mouth and once on the forehead. Mejia-Canales pled guilty to assault on a federal officer.

The guard “sustained a small laceration on the inside of his mouth and a red mark on his forehead.” The government sought a two-level enhancement for bodily injury, submitting three poor-quality photographs of the injuries, which cast little light on the nature of the injuries. The district court took judicial notice that injuries to the mouth are very painful and do not heal fast.

On appeal, Mejia-Canales argued the evidence was insufficient to prove “bodily injury” under federal Sentencing Guidelines. The Tenth Circuit agreed. The Sentencing Guidelines limit “bodily injury” to those that are “significant.” It must be “an injury that is painful and obvious, or is of the type for which medical attention ordinarily be sought.”

Here, the guard’s head injury consisted only of a red mark, without any reported swelling, bleeding, or bruising. The oral cut was a “small laceration.” The evidence “speaks to neither the lasting nor painful nature of the injuries.” Thus, the Tenth Circuit held there was no factual support “for a finding of bodily injury in a case where the visible evidence alone is not enough to prove significance.”

The two-level enhancement for bodily injury was reversed and resentencing was ordered. See: United States v. Mejia-Canales, 467 F. 3d 1280 (10th Cir. 2006).

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Related legal case

United States v. Mejia-Canales