Stab Wounds


A stab wound is a piercing wound that is deeper than it is wide, inflicted with a sharp, pointy object, such as a knife. Once the sharp tip of the weapon breaks the skin, it will easily slice through organs and any soft tissue, with little force. In fact, a knife can cause far more damage than the individual inflicting the wound may realize.  Though most stab wounds are inflicted with knives, any pointy object, including scissors, screwdrivers, pens, and ice picks, can be used to stab someone.

Characteristics of Stab Wounds

The physical characteristics of the stab wound will depend on the area punctured, tautness of surrounding skin, thrusting motion, bone or cartilage in the path of the weapon, wound depth and, of course, the shape and size of the weapon. A knife wound will usually have a pointed side and a squared off side, appearing as a neat, thin triangular shape. The shape of a stab wound may be misinterpreted by medical examiners, police, and prosecutors. For example, a prosecutor may argue that an irregular stab wound demonstrates that the defendant twisted the knife inside the victim to inflict maximum pain and damage to organs and surrounding tissue. A large, irregular stab wound, however, is usually caused, not by the initial thrust or twisting the knife following penetration, but by the victim’s movement as the attacker withdrew the blade. The majority of stab wounds are not deep enough to be immediately fatal. In those cases where the victim succumbs to the injury, he usually dies slowly of blood loss or because the wound penetrated the heart or severed major heart arteries, such as the right descending coronary artery or the aorta.

In assessing a stab wound, the medical examiner will consider the characteristics of the second layer of skin, elastic fibers known as Langer’s Lines. A wound perpendicular to the Langer’s Lines will create a gaping hole in the skin, whereas a wound parallel to the Langer’s Lines will create more of a slit-like wound. Pulling the separated skin together on a perpendicular wound will help the examiner estimate the maximum width of the blade.

Identifying the Weapon

It is usually impossible to match a stab wound to a particular knife. At most, a forensic pathologist will, after thoroughly examining a wound, conclude that a specific knife’s (i.e., the alleged murder weapon) size and shape is compatible with the wounded inflicted. For the forensic pathologist, it is usually easier to rule out or eliminate a particular knife as having characteristics incompatible with the wound, such as a serrated edge. To identify a particular knife as the weapon used to inflict the wound, law enforcement must collect other evidence from the weapon, such as the victim’s blood or DNA. Of course, where the tip of the knife breaks off inside the victim, law enforcement may be able to match the tip to the blade.

Defensive Wounds

Stab wounds to the upper extremities, such as the hands or forearms, are usually defensive wounds, the result of a victim shielding himself from his attacker. A victim who suffered slicing wounds to his hand or hands usually grabbed the knife by the blade, either to prevent penetration or further penetration or disarm his attacker.

Our Experience as Massachusetts Criminal Attorneys

Attorney Mahoney has successfully defended clients charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, such as a knife. He is currently defending an individual accused of stabbing an intruder to death.  If you have been accused of a violent crime, such as a stabbing or shooting, call our office today. Retaining an experienced, knowledgable, and aggressive Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer at the earliest possible moment maximizes your chances of an acquittal or acceptable resolution to your charges.