mayhem (māˈhĕm, māˈəm) [key], in common law, the crime of willfully injuring a person so as to diminish his or her capacity for self-defense. Cutting off an arm or leg would thus be mayhem, while such a battery as cutting off an ear would not. Under modern statutes, however, mayhem (or maiming) is a form of aggravated battery that leads to mutilation (such as loss of an ear), disfigurement, or serious permanent injury; jurisdictions vary in requiring specific intent to cause the injury or, more broadly, wanton behavior leading to it.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.