Mayhem

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MAYHEMMayhem

Simple Mahem

The term mayhem is one which is often misunderstood. In its common definition, it is used to describe events or circumstances causing, chaos, disorder, or confusion. However, under the criminal law it applies to a specific form of crime1. The crime is one, which applies to particular types of injuries to parts or "members," of the body. They include:




  • Depriving a person of a member of the body.
  • Disabling, disfiguring, or rendering useless a member of the body.
  • Cutting or disabling the tongue.
  • Putting out an eye.
  • Slitting the nose, ear, or lip.

The following acts have also been determined to constitute mayhem:

  • Throwing a glass of water at the victim causing loss of sight.2
  • Disfiguring and disabling a finger, requiring amputation.3
  • Biting off part of the victim's ear in a brawl.4
  • Biting off half of the victim's lower lip.5
  • Causing seriously disabling ankle injury that lasted for over six months.6
  • Forcibly tattooing a woman on her breast and abdomen.7
  • Burning breasts with a cigarette, resulting in visible scars.8
Simple Mahem

The sentence for a felony conviction is prison for 2, 4, or eight years. Murder committed during the commission of mayhem is a special circumstance, punishable by death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.9 It can involve the civil remedy of the forfeiture of property or money acquired as a result of the commission of the crime.10

The description, “Puts out an eye,” can apply to injuries beyond a literal interpretation that include, “the eye has been injured to such an extent that its possessor cannot use it for the ordinary and usual practical purposes of life,” which may involve a loss of vision in only one eye. 11

One of the requirements of mayhem is that it result in “permanent maiming or disfigurement.”12 Two examples are a knife injury to victim’s face resulting in probable permanent disfigurement but no functional impairment;13 an ankle injury to a rape victim who was seriously disabled for six months.14 The fact that there exists medical treatments which may repair the injury to where it would not be permanent does not prevent a conviction for mayhem. 15

Aggravated Mayhem.

This crime consists of, intentionally causing permanent disability or disfigurement to another, or depriving another of a limb, organ, or body member. The act must be committed under circumstances that exhibit an extreme disregard, or concern for a person’s psychological or physical condition. Aggravated mayhem is punishable by imprisonment in prison for life with the possibility of parole.


1Section 203 of the California Penal Code.

2(People v. McWilliams (1948) 87 C.A.2d 550, 551, 197 P.2d 216).

3 (People v. Montes (1949) 91 C.A.2d 222, 224, 204 P.2d 659.)

4 (People v. Wright (1892) 93 C. 564, 566, 29 P. 240.).

5 (People v. Caldwell (1984) 153 C.A.3d 947, 952, 200 C.R. 508.)

6 (People v. Thomas (1979) 96 C.A.3d 507, 512, 158 C.R. 120.)

7 (People v. Page (1980) 104 C.A.3d 569, 577, 163 C.R. 839 [removal of tattoos would leave permanent scars].)

8 (People v. Keenan (1991) 227 C.A.3d 26, 36, 277 C.R. 687.)

9 Section 190.2(a)(17)(J) of the California Penal Code

10 Section 186 of the California Penal Code.

11 People v. Nunes (1920) 47 C.A. 346, 348, 190 P. 486 People v. Green (1976) 59 C.A.3d 1, 4, 130 C.R. 318; (People v. Dennis (1985) 169 C.A.3d 1135, 1138, 215 C.R. 750

12 (People v. Garcia (1970) 5 C.A.3d 15, 19, 85 C.R. 36.)

13 (Goodman v. Superior Court (1978) 84 C.A.3d 621, 625, 148 C.R. 799

14 (People v. Thomas (1979) 96 C.A.3d 507, 512, 158 C.R. 120)

15 (People v. Hill (1994) 23 C.A.4th 1566, 28 C.R.2d; People v. Keenan (1991) 227 C.A.3d 26, 35, 36, 277 C.R. 687 People v. Williams (1996) 46 C.A.4th 1767, 1774, 54 C.R.2d 521.)

16 Section 205 of the California Penal Code