Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Mutilation Definition:

To render a thing imperfect by cutting off or destroying a part.

Related Terms: Defile

Human Body

In regards to the human body, Justice Wood of the California Court of Appeal, in People v Bullington, adopted these words:

"The term mutilate as applied to a person means to cut off a limb or an essential part of the body, and in criminal law, means to deprive a man of the use of those limbs which may be useful to him in a fight."

In State v Stout, Justice Ahrens of the Missouri Court of Appeals defined mutilation as follows:

"... to cut off or permanently destroy a limb or essential part of or to cut up or alter radically so as to make imperfect.....

"... the cutting off or removal of an essential part of a person or thing, thereby impairing its completeness, beauty or function...."

In French v Ochsner, the Court of Appeal of Louisiana held that an unapproved medical autopsy importing dissection, is mutilation ("... dissection is mutilation...").

Mutilation ought always to be an aggravating factor in terms of sentencing as it is both a heinous act and demonstrates depravity of mind. In that context, Justice Ryan of the Supreme Court of Arizona adopted these words in State v Murdaugh:

"Mutilation is an act distinct from the killing itself that includes the purposeful severing of body parts.

"Mutilation after death reflects a mental state that is marked by debasement ... and mutilation alone supports the finding of heinousness and depravity."

In another case where mutilation was raised in the context of aggravating circumstances and the death penalty, Smith v State, Justice Shearing wrote;

"The term mutilate mans to cut off or permanently destroy a limb or essential part of the body or to cut off or alter radically so as to make imperfect."


In regards to a thing or document, the court, in Bullington, noted this definition of mutilation:

"... to render (a thing, especially a record, book, etc.) imperfect by cutting off or destroying a part."

In Dinkins, Justice Montgomery of the Supreme Court of Mississippi wrote:

"Mutilation ordinarily imports the rendering of a document imperfect by subtracting from it some substantial part, as, by cutting, tearing, burning or erasure, but without totally destroying it."

In Young v Central of Georgia Railway, Justice Candler of the Supreme Court of Georgia wrote that the term mutilate means:

"... to retrench, remove, expunge, or delete an essential or material part of, so as to render incomplete or imperfect, as a literary composition; as to mutilate, a speech. The main idea ... is the removal of an essential part so that the whole is rendered imperfect."


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