Tennessee Supreme Court Clarifies When A Serious Bodily Injury Must Occur For Especially Aggravated Robbery

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently clarified that a serious bodily injury must occur before the completion of a robbery for an  especially aggravated robbery conviction.  Under Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-401, an especially aggravated robbery is a robbery that is (1) accomplished with a deadly weapon and (2) where the victim suffers serious bodily injury.  Robbery is the “intentional or knowing theft of property from the person of another by violence or putting the person in fear.”  T.C.A. § 39-13-401.  A theft of property occurs when a person, “with the intent to deprive the owner of property, . . . knowingly obtains or exercises control over the property without the owners effective consent.”  T.C.A. § 39-14-103.  While the statutes are specific about many things, they never clarify when the “serious bodily injury” must occur.

On direct appeal, the court of criminal appeals had affirmed the defendant’s conviction, stating that “the serious bodily injury suffered by the victim can precede, be contemporaneous with, or occur subsequent to but in connection with the taking of property of another.”  However, the Tennessee Supreme Court found this a troubling conclusion given that (1) nothing in the especially aggravated robbery statute supports the conclusion that the victim’s serious bodily injury can be suffered subsequent to the commission of the underlying theft/robbery with a deadly weapon and (2) it was partially based on a misinterpretation of previous case law.  Thus, the Court held that “a robbery accomplished with a deadly weapon is complete once the accused has completed his theft of all the property he intended to steal.”

Despite the above, the Court still affirmed the defendant’s conviction, albeit for a different reason than the court of criminal appeals.  The defendant in this case had demanded that the victim turn over his wallet, cellphone, and his keys.  Instead of leaving after getting the wallet, cellphone, and keys, the defendant began discussing with his corhort what to do with the victim.  During that time, the victim began struggling with the defendant and the victim was shot four times.  Since it could be inferred that the defendant had intended to take the victim’s car but he had not yet finished taking his car when the victim was seriously injured, the Court held that, even under the new rule, the evidence was sufficient to support the defendant’s especially aggravated robbery conviction.

State v. Henderson, No. W2015-00151-SC-R11-CD (Tenn. 2017)

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