Domestic assault charges are a significant part of the common assault cases investigated and prosecuted by the police and the Crown attorney offices. Almost all Crown offices have special domestic violence teams or units. The basics which are required to be proven by the Crown in such cases are not different from those in the common assault cases. To get a basic understanding of what “assault” legally means, you can begin by reviewing the elements of an assault charge.
The difference between domestic assault and common assault
What distinguishes common assault from domestic assault is the identity of the parties. Of course, the word “domestic” means that the accused and the victim are related. Very often, they are a husband and wife or common law partners, but “domestic assault” could refer to assault against any member of the same family. In most cases, an investigation and consequent domestic assault charge is triggered by a complaint from the victim or a family member. Sometimes, police are called by concerned neighbours or a witness who happens to be around.
“Can my wife stop me from being charged with domestic assault?”
This is a very common question. It is a common misconception that a victim of domestic assault can choose whether the prosecution should go ahead with the charge, or have the case dismissed on the victim’s request. There is no such concept as “dropping charges” in domestic assault cases. Once a charge is laid, an accused will be prosecuted. The only thing a victim can really choose to do or not do is give an initial statement to the police. If such a statement is given, it is usually secured by way of video recording. The statement will be a part of the prosecution’s evidence even if the victim changes or retracts it.
Immediate consequences of a charge of domestic assault
There are certain consequences for a person accused of domestic assault which come immediately after the charge is laid. When a person is charged with domestic assault, one of two things can happen. He or she can be arrested and later taken before a Justice of the Peace for a bail hearing, or they can be released by the police. However, in both cases conditions of release are the same. They are:
- The accused is prohibited from coming back and living in the same home with the victim,
- He or she cannot contact the victim directly or indirectly,
- The accused must appear before the court on the day and time set by the bail court or police officer.
- As with other charges, an individual charged with domestic assault must provide fingerprints, and finally,
- No criminal record clearance letter can be obtained for employment purposes while the charge is pending.
All these restrictions are in force until the case is completed. The first two conditions are, of course, especially onerous. The accused must find a new place to live, he or she cannot see the family, talk to his or her children, and more. The accused can only return to regular life if the charges were withdrawn by the prosecution, dismissed by the court or otherwise resolved.
Consequences of conviction of a charge of domestic assault
The consequences add up if the accused is convicted of a charge of domestic assault.
- In addition to possible criminal charges and sentence, the accused is often put on probation. In most cases, the probation period is 1 to 2 years. Some typical conditions of probation are:
- the accused cannot contact the victim unless the victim provides written consent allowing contact, which can be revoked orally at any time, or a complete prohibition on contact (depending on the circumstances of the victim),
- obligation to attend an anger management counselling,
- prohibition on possession of weapons,
- in some cases, the court can order the accused to provide a DNA sample.
Many municipalities, such as Toronto, provide the accused with counselling on the basis of the PARS (Partner Assault Response Services) program. The PARS program is very often used as a part of the so-called early intervention program for people accused of domestic assault for the first time. It is used in combination with a 12-16 months probation period, and allows the early resolution of the charge. Further to this program, an accused can return to his or her family home within 1 or 2 months after the charge was laid.
What to do about a domestic assault charge
Many domestic assault cases are resolved byway of making a deal with the prosecution, which can include such conditions as dropping charges, absolute or conditional discharge with a probation period including the PARS program, a suspended or conditional sentence or some smaller penalty. The nature of a possible resolution depends on the circumstances of each individual case.
If you were charged with domestic assault, contact us – because you don’t always need a lawyer.