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Assault Charges, Toronto


Assault is a criminal offence in Canada that includes incidents ranging from minor assaults causing no physical injury, to assaults resulting in significant bodily harm. The Criminal Code has several specific assault related provisions, including common assault, assault causing bodily harm, aggravated assault, and assault with a weapon. As any assault charge can have tremendous consequences for the accused, hiring a criminal lawyer to defend the charges is essential.

Common Assaults

Assault charges frequently arise from minor domestic disputes, but can be laid whenever one person is alleged to have applied direct or indirect force to another person without their consent. Since the criminal code does not specify the amount of force, or require any physical injury to the victim, something as simple as placing one's hand on another person's shoulder without their consent could constitute an assault.

Everyday, people are charged with Assault in Toronto for incidents that result in little or no physical harm (particularly in the domestic context).

Since many people are unaware that any unwanted physical contact is enough for an assault charge, they readily admit to police that they touched the victim in some way. Admitting that you touched the victim will both cause you to be charged with assault, and limit your ability to defend the charge in court.

In order to be convicted of assault, the assault must be considered by the court to be an intentional act. If a person accidentally hits their partner while sleeping, this would not meet the definition of an assault.

If the accused intended to assault one person, but ended up assaulting someone else, the intent is said to have been transferred and thus this requirement is met. This is typical where a third party tries to stop an assault from happening and ends up being hit himself.

Punishment

For common assaults that do not meet the definition of aggravated or causing bodily harm, the maximum punishment provided under the criminal code is five years imprisonment. In reality, most minor assaults result in probation or minimal time in custody (depending on the record of the offender).

Self Defence in Assault cases

Perhaps the most common defence given by those accused with assault is that they were acting in self defence. The facts of assault cases are not always clear and the evidence usually involves only the statements made by each party. In domestic matters, which are usually the result of an incident in the family home, assault cases are "he said, she said" type disputes. This means the police are tasked with listening to the statements of both parties and charging the one they feel is most culpable.

In order to be found not guilty of an assault charge on the grounds of self defence, the accused must demonstrate to the court that they believed they were in harm and defended themselves using force that was "reasonable in the circumstances". Since this definition is highly subjective, in practical terms the accused needs to have the judge believe his story (and that his actions were reasonable).

Alcohol Related Assault

Much like intoxication is normally not a valid defence to most criminal charges, it is also generally not a valid defence to an assault charge. If you voluntarily got drunk, intoxication will generally not work as a defence method. If, however, you consumed alcohol (or drugs) under false pretences you could use intoxication as a defence to the charge. Examples of this could include you being forced or tricked into consuming alcohol.

Alcohol is also relevant in assault cases because it negatively impacts witness credibility. If the victim was drunk at the time of the assault, the accused may be able to convince the court that their testimony is inaccurate or lacks credibility. The success of this defence will depend on what other evidence exists (besides the victim's testimony) such as the extent of the injuries, and any admissions or statement made by the accused. 

Defence of Consent (victim agreed to fight)

As part of the definition of assault includes force that is applied without the consent of the victim, if it can be established in court that the victim consented to a fight, it may be possible to avoid an assault conviction. Case law (court decisions) have limited this defence to instances where there is no significant bodily harm.

Many times, an assault charge is laid after a fight takes place. Perhaps two drunk individuals get into an argument at a bar and decide to "take the matter outside". A consensual fight ensues and the police end up charging one party with assault. If there is no significant bodily harm and it can be proven in court that the fight was agreed to by both parties, it is possible for the accused to be found not guilty.

Witness testimony is critical in these cases and many times a successful defence will depend on your ability to find witnesses who will testify in court that it was consensual.

Assault with a Weapon, Assault causing Bodily Harm, and Aggravated Assault

The criminal code has several different classifications for assault for cases that go beyond the standard "common assault" definition in s. 266.

Assault with a weapon

Assault with a weapon includes assaults where an object is used to apply force to the victim. Weapons include obvious things like a guns, knives, sticks, clubs, or bats, but theoretically even a pillow could constitute a weapon if used to apply force to the victim. Also, encouraging an animal such as a dog to bite or harm the victim could result in a charge of assault with a weapon.

Assault with a weapon does not relate to the level of injury, but rather whether any object other than the accused's body is alleged to have been used.

Assault causing bodily harm vs. aggravated assault

An assault that that causes bodily harm is one where there is injury to the victim that "interferes with the health or comfort of the person and that is more than merely transient or trifling in nature".

A more serious assault that "wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the complainant" would constitute an aggravated assault. These two distinctions are relevant in the sentencing process for those convicted of assault.

Aggravated assaults are indictable offences punishable with up to 14 years in prison. Assaults causing bodily harm can be summary or indictable (depending on how the Crown wishes to proceed) and carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.


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