Great Bodily Injury or “GBI”

Great bodily injury is a legal term used to describe serious physical injuries. Whether an injury counts a “great bodily injury” can affect penalties in some DUI cases.

Many DUI cases involve injuries. If anyone other than the alleged intoxicated driver is injured, this will make the consequences—and often the DUI charge itself—much more serious. But the law does not treat all injuries equally.

California, like most states, draws a distinction between normal injuries and “great bodily injury” or GBI. The California Penal Code defines GBI this way:

Significant or substantial physical injury

This is a very vague definition. There is no clear, scientific line between what is a “significant” injury and what is not. This leaves a lot of room for dispute over what kind of injuries qualify.

In general, GBI includes injuries that:

  • Nearly kill the victim or put them at risk of death
  • Permanently disfigure the victim
  • Cause the loss of a body part or organ
  • Cause tremendous physical pain
  • Lead to a protracted impairment or disability

How does GBI affect a DUI case?

There are three main ways that great bodily injury can affect a DUI case:

  • If you are charged with DUI Causing Injury, and the injury in question is a GBI, you will likely face the felony version of this charge (with up to 3 years in prison) rather than the misdemeanor version (maximum 1 year in jail)
  • In a felony DUI Causing Injury, you also face up to 6 additional years of prison for each additional victim who suffered GBI
  • If your DUI involved someone’s death, you could potentially face up to 6 additional years of prison for each surviving victim who suffered GBI

This means that GBI is more than just an aggravating factor in a DUI case; it is one of the most serious sentence-enhancing factors that your case can involve.

How is GBI determined?

When cases involving a potential GBI go to trial, the jury has to decide whether they believe the specific injury in question qualifies. It can be hard to predict how a jury will decide, and it often depends on how sympathetic the victim appears in court.

This means that the prosecution has to make a decision long before the trial as to whether they want to claim the injury was a GBI. If they do, they face a harder burden of proof, and they may also have to dispute the victim’s injuries in court, which prosecutors may prefer to avoid. Because of this there is room to negotiate with the prosecutor in advance and potentially take the GBI off the table. Disputing whether an injury counts as GBI—or threatening to do so in the courtroom—can be an effective way to reduce the severity of a felony DUI.

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