State v. Hill, ___ N.C. App. ___, 821 S.E.2d 631 (Oct. 16, 2018)

In this assault inflicting serious bodily injury case, no plain error occurred with respect to the trial court’s jury instructions defining “serious bodily injury” as to victim E.D. The court noted that while it prefers trial courts to use the Pattern Jury Instructions, an instruction is sufficient if it adequately explains each essential element of the offense. The Pattern Instruction provides that “[s]erious bodily injury is bodily injury that creates or causes [a substantial risk of death][serious permanent disfigurement].” Here, the trial court’s instruction stated, in pertinent part: “Serious bodily injury is injury that creates or causes a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement.” Although the trial court’s instruction was imperfect, the jury was not misled:

The instruction, viewed as a whole, correctly placed the burden of proof on the State for the two elements of felonious assault inflicting serious bodily injury. The trial court merely conjoined the language of two parentheticals from the pattern jury instruction. Moreover, the evidence put on by the State goes to prove the creation of serious permanent disfigurement, not a risk of serious substantial disfigurement. Therefore, even though the jury was incorrectly instructed that the State’s burden may be satisfied by the Defendant causing a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement, the State’s evidence sufficiently proved that E.D. actually suffered serious permanent disfigurement. We cannot say that it is reasonably probable that the outcome would have been different, but for the error in the jury instruction.