California Penal Code Section 12022.7 Interpretation

Section 12022.7, subdivision (b), provides: "Any person found to have inflicted great bodily injury . . . which causes the victim to become comatose due to brain injury or to suffer paralysis, as defined in Section 12022.9, of a permanent nature, shall be punished by an additional and consecutive term of five years." Based on the legislative history of the statute as well as the language employed, that the phrase "of a permanent nature" was intended to modify only "paralysis." First, the evolution of the legislative language after the bill's original introduction, which can offer "considerable enlightenment as to legislative intent" (People v. Goodloe (1995) 37 Cal. App. 4th 485, 491 [44 Cal. Rptr. 2d 15]), confirms the Legislature did not intend to limit the enhancement to victims in permanent comas. Subdivision (b) of section 12022.7 was added by the enactment of Senate Bill No. 529. (Stats. 1993, ch. 607, 2, p. 3260.) As originally introduced in the Legislature, the subdivision (b) enhancement applied only if the injury caused the victim to "become clinically brain dead," connoting a permanent state. (Sen. Amend. to Sen. Bill No. 529 (1993-1994 Reg. Sess.) May 20, 1993 at [as of Feb. 22, 2000].) During the legislative process, the phrase "clinically brain dead" was replaced with the word "comatose." (Assem. Amend. to Sen. Bill No. 529 (1993-1994 Reg. Sess.) July 15, 1993 at [as of Feb. 22, 2000].) The change in terminology from brain dead to comatose demonstrated an intent that the enhancement applied even though the victim's comatose condition was not permanent and irreversible. Additionally, the floor analysis of Senate Bill No. 529, which we may also consult to construe the legislative intent ( People v. Broussard (1993) 5 Cal. 4th 1067, 1075 [22 Cal. Rptr. 2d 278, 856 P.2d 1134]), confirms the "permanent nature" language was intended to apply to paralyzed rather than comatose victims. The floor analysis in the Senate (see Sen. Com. on Public Safety, 3d reading analysis of Sen. Bill No. 529 (1993-1994 Reg. Sess.) as amended Sept. 3, 1993, par. 2 at [as of Feb. 22, 2000]) contained language stating: "THIS BILL: "2) Adds a five year enhancement for intentional infliction of great bodily injury causing the victim to be comatose due to brain injury or suffer permanent paralysis . . . ." The legislative history convinces us the Legislature intended the word "permanent" to modify the term "paralysis" but not the term "comatose." Section 12022.53, subdivision (d) applies to any person who personally and intentionally discharges a firearm and proximately causes great bodily injury as defined in section 12022.7. Section 12022.7 defines great bodily injury as a significant or substantial injury. ( 12022.7.) Great bodily injury need not meet any particular standard for severity or duration but need only be a substantial injury beyond that inherent in the offense itself. (People v. Escobar (1992) 3 Cal.4th 740, 746-747.) The following cases are instructive. In People v. Wolcott (1983) 34 Cal.3d 92, the court held that gunshot wounds to a victim's leg constituted great bodily injury and were not superficial or transitory. The victim lost little blood, no sutures were used, and he returned to work the next day. (Id. at p. 107.) Similarly, the victim in People v. Le (2006) 137 Cal.App.4th 54, 57-59, who was struck by a bullet while a passenger in a car, was found to have suffered great bodily injury. He sustained soft tissue and muscular injury to both legs, but was released from the hospital within 24 hours. (Ibid.) In People v. Lopez (1986) 176 Cal.App.3d 460, the court found that penetrating gunshot wounds constituted great bodily injury where the victims immediately fell to the ground upon being shot, were disoriented, screamed, or felt fiery heat. (Id. at p. 465.) And, in People v. Mendias (1993) 17 Cal.App.4th 195, the evidence was sufficient to show great bodily injury where the victim was shot in the thigh and suffered pain from the burning sensation, but felt no pain at the time of trial. (Id. at pp. 199, 206.)