State v. Dew: Multiple Assault Offenses and Distinct Interruptions

Happy New Year, everyone.

Around this time last year, I blogged about the decades-long question surrounding assault in our state: when do multiple physical acts constitute one continuing assault offense and when do they constitute more than one assault offense?

At the time the blog was written, the Court of Appeals had analyzed this issue several times, but the question had never reached our state Supreme Court. The Court has since decided State v. Dew, ___ N.C. ___, 2021-NCSC-124 (Oct. 29, 2021), building on the Court of Appeals’ jurisprudence and offering clarification on the “distinct interruption” approach used in deciding these cases. This post reviews the Court’s decision in Dew and the implications it has on physical assault cases moving forward.

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Beaten, Battered, and Bruised: Multiple Assault Offenses or a Continuing Assault Offense?

Imagine a case of domestic violence in which the perpetrator physically and violently assaults a victim. The perpetrator punches the victim with his fist, grabs the victim by the throat and strangles her, and grabs the nearest object and hits her over the head. The victim suffers a broken jaw, black eye, and a concussion and sustains bruising to the neck.

Assuming each of these acts occurred within a short and continuous time frame, could the perpetrator be charged with multiple counts of assault or only one?

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How Serious Is a “Serious Bodily Injury”?

Here’s a question for you: which of the following injuries is more serious?

  • The victim, a police officer injured while fighting with a suspect, “sustained puncture wounds [from bites] on his left forearm and right bicep.” The officer testified that the bites were extremely painful, and they caused “severe bruising and depressions, [and] permanent scarring . . . includ[ing] a large circle on his right bicep, ‘just over a half an inch to an inch in a circle’ with a ‘large depression[,]’ and ‘a deep ridge’ on his left arm. The officer experienced loss of sleep and extreme stress [and] had to be tested multiple times for communicable diseases.”
  • The victim, a six-year-old girl injured when her father “forcibly twisted” her leg until it broke, suffered a “spiral fracture” of her femur. A physician described such fractures as “incredibly painful,” and the child required morphine to control her discomfort. She was placed in traction and underwent surgery to place titanium rods in her leg. The surgery resulted in lifelong scars. The victim was in a cast for several weeks, and used a wheelchair and a walker during her recovery. She regained the full use of her leg in five to eight months, but had to repeat kindergarten as a result of missing so much school.

You can vote on the answer below. Once you have voted, read on to see how the court of appeals viewed these two scenarios.

Which injury was more serious?

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Is Paddling a Student a Crime?

On the first day of elementary school each year, our teacher displayed her paddle, which was wooden with a short, solid handle. The paddle portion had holes drilled through its core.  Most school years, someone (always a boy, in my recollection), wound up being paddled. Times have changed for most students. But because a handful of schools in North Carolina still employ corporal punishment, questions continue to arise regarding when such punishment crosses the line between permissible school discipline and unlawful assault. 

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Murder Rates and Medical Progress

The murder rate in North Carolina is falling. The same is true nationally. A recent article suggests that shootings are actually up, but deaths are down due to medical advances. At least the first part of that claim is almost certainly wrong. The chart below illustrates the decline in murders. The article in question is … Read more