“Assault” is a word we commonly use, and each of us has an understanding of what it means. Typically, when we think about assault, we imagine someone punching or kicking another person. Although this is generally considered assault, of course, for the purposes of a conversation with someone who was charged with assault in Toronto or elsewhere in Canada, we should nonetheless begin by making certain clarifications about what “assault” means.
What is assault?
First, the definition of assault in the Criminal Code of Canada is very broad. There are three situations where a person can be charged with assault, and not all of them involve a punch or a kick. A person can be charged with assault when:
- He or she intentionally uses direct or indirect force against another individual, without that individual’s consent. Note that there’s no specification of what kind of “force” we’re talking about – at least theoretically, a very wide variety of physical contact can constitute assault, ranging from a slap to a head butt. There isn’t a list of physical actions which you can look to in order to see whether something is assault.
- He or she threatens another individual with the use of force, by some act or gesture. This is perhaps surprising to some – there’s a difference between punching someone and waving a fist, threatening to do so. Nonetheless, you can be charged (and convicted) of assault for physically threatening someone, even if you don’t actually go through with it.
- Finally, you can be charged with assault if you openly carry a real weapon or a weapon imitation, and use it to accost, stop or beg another person. Again, a person can be charged with assault even if they don’t use the weapon.
Second, there are different types of assault between which we must distinguish. Assault is classified based on type – sexual or non-sexual, as well as based on consequences and special circumstances. Assault that causes significant bodily harm (apart from scratches or bruises) is often classified as just that, assault causing bodily harm. Based on the circumstances and consequences, assault can also be aggravated, or classified as assault with a weapon.
Consequences of Being Charged with Common Assault
Here, we are primarily concerned with what’s known as “common assault” – assault without aggravating factors, weapons, special circumstances or sexual components. If you are charged with common assault, the Crown typically proceeds summarily. If the Crown proceeds summarily, punishment will not exceed 6 months of imprisonment, a $5,000 fine, or both. This also means that if you are charged with common assault, a paralegal can represent you – because you don’t always need a lawyer. This, in turn, means that you can get quality representation cost-effectively.
Defences to a Charge of Common Assault
Going through every defence you may have available is one of the most important components of good representation. Whether you intend to plead not guilty and go to trial, or are looking to reach another acceptable resolution, defences must be carefully considered to achieve the optimal outcome.
There is a number of defences which may be used in common assault cases. The three most common defences are:
- Self-defence. This is a defence that is provided for in the Criminal Code. There are a number of components of the defence which the accused must establish in order to use this defence successfully, such as showing that the use of force was reasonable to respond to a real threat.
- Consent. It is a defence to a charge of common assault if you can prove that the person assaulted consented to this, as in, for example, a sporting activity. This is a complex defence, however, and its success depends on the circumstances of the assault and its consequences.
- Absence of intent. This is one more common defence, which rests on showing that the accused didn’t assault the alleged victim on purpose – that the assault was the result of some other circumstance.
Potential Outcomes of a Common Assault Charge
One of our most important goals in a common assault charge is to avoid a conviction, which would entail a criminal record and a respective sentence.
Often, assault cases may be effectively resolved without trial, for example, on a conditional discharge or suspended sentence with a probation order. Contact us today for a free assessment of your case. Representation is important not only for trial, but in resolutions as well – a successful resolution requires careful analysis of the facts, evidence, and the accused’s past and present.
If you are charged with common assault, remember that you don’t always need a lawyer.