The Human Body: A Deadly Weapon?

Learn when the body, by itself, can be a deadly weapon.

Using a deadly or dangerous weapon during the commission of a crime is often an aggravating circumstance that can increase punishment. You've no doubt heard that objects like guns, knives, and even cars constitute "deadly weapons." But did you know courts sometimes consider the human body a deadly weapon, too?

Weapons That are “Deadly”

Certain items like guns, knives, axes, and clubs are deadly weapons in any situation. But even ordinary items that aren’t inherently dangerous can be deemed dangerous or deadly when used to injure or threaten someone. Courts have found items like pocketknives, stones, and walking sticks to be deadly weapons when used to attack. Likewise, the human body itself isn’t a deadly weapon, but it can be used as one. The determination of whether it is rests on how it was used and how much harm resulted.

Depends on the State

Certain states specifically exclude the human body from the definition of “deadly weapon.” For instance, in California, the body can’t be a deadly weapon in the context of assault with a deadly weapon, even though it may inflict deadly force. Rather, deadly weapons are objects external to the body. (People v. Aguilar, 16 Cal.4th 1023 (1997).)

But courts in several states like Texas, Ohio, and Kentucky have determined the human body to be a deadly weapon under certain circumstances.

Not Just Hands and Feet

Courts have found that various parts of a body can be weapons, including:

  • hands
  • feet
  • teeth
  • the mouth, and even
  • elbows or knees.

In deciding if a body part is a deadly or dangerous weapon, courts will consider the following factors:

  • the manner of blows, hits, or kicks
  • the degree of force used
  • the number of times the defendant struck, kicked, or bit the victim
  • the extent of the victim’s injuries, and
  • the location of injuries on the victim’s body.

In states where human body parts can be deadly weapons, courts determine whether they actually are on a case-by-case basis. Normally, an assault involving punching wouldn’t make the hands deadly weapons. But if the punching was repeated, extremely severe, and caused permanent damage, then a court would be more likely to rule otherwise. Courts have also declared hands to be deadly weapons when the attack involved strangling, suffocating, choking, pushing, or dragging.

In some states, such as Texas, a defendant’s martial arts training may make the body a deadly weapon. But in many states like Illinois the defendant’s training and skill—no matter how lethal—doesn’t transform the body into a deadly weapon.

If the Shoe Fits

In cases where defendants have kicked victims, courts have often inquired into the type of shoes worn, considering their size, shape, weight, construction, and materials. In states like Arkansas, where a foot or ordinary shoe cannot ordinarily be a deadly weapon, some kinds of shoes (like steel-toed boots) may qualify. If a victim’s kick-induced injuries are severe enough, the court may not require much evidence about the type of footwear.

Extent of Injury

The more severe the attack and injury, the more likely it is that a court will rule that a hand or foot is a deadly weapon. Courts have found body parts to be deadly weapons when the victim:

  • was rendered unconscious,
  • suffered brain damage, or
  • had a fractured skull.

Courts have also considered the human body a deadly weapon when a kick or blow lifted the victim off the ground or there was enough force to rotate the victim’s body 90 degrees.

Consult a Lawyer

If you’ve been charged with a crime—involving a deadly weapon or not—consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. Only such a lawyer can advise you as to the best course of action and protect your rights.

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