What are the different types of assault?


The basic legal definition of assault is intentional force applied, whether directly or indirectly, to someone without their consent. An assault can also be a threat to apply force to someone through an act or gesture. For this to happen, the act or gesture must be made with a present ability to follow through with the threat it creates, or with the complainant reasonably believing that the act or gesture is made with a present ability to follow through.

Because assault can arise in several ways, different categories of assaults were created in law. For example, The Criminal Code of Canada creates offences called “assault with a weapon” and “assault causing bodily harm.” Three different types of assault can make up this offence:

  1. Assaults with a weapon.
  2. Assaults causing bodily harm.
  3. Assaults involving choking, suffocation, or strangling.

WHAT IS ASSAULT WITH A WEAPON?

A person may be charged with the offence of assault with a weapon where an assault happens while carrying, using, or threatening to use a weapon or an imitation of a weapon may be an assault with a weapon.

When most people hear “weapon,” they probably think of guns, knives, or brass knuckles. They might be surprised to learn that, in the eyes of the law, a weapon includes anything that is used in causing injury or for threatening or intimidating someone. For example, a hockey stick, a frying pan, or a shoe may also be considered weapons.

Notice that using a weapon to apply force is not the only way an assault with a weapon can be made out. For example, an assault by someone who is carrying a weapon but not directly using it to threaten or apply force can also be an assault with a weapon.

Another example is an assault using an imitation of a weapon. Imagine someone stuffing their fist in their jacket pocket to look like a gun, pointing it at the complainant, and threatening to shoot. This may be an assault with a weapon if the complainant reasonably believes that a gun that could shoot them was in that jacket pocket.

WHAT IS ASSAULT CAUSING BODILY HARM?

An assault that causes the complainant bodily harm is an assault causing bodily harm. This may sound obvious, but it is important to understand what the words “cause” and “bodily harm” mean.

The legal definition of bodily harm is hurt or injury that interferes with someone’s health or comfort in a way that lasts for more than a very short time and is at least somewhat serious. The hurt or injury does not have to last for a long time or be very serious, but it is more than a moment of minor pain. For example, a slap to someone’s face that only causes their cheek to sting for a few seconds may not be assault causing bodily harm.

To be convicted of an assault causing bodily harm, one of the things that the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt is that the act in question actually caused the bodily harm. This does not mean that it had to be the only cause, but it does have to be a real and “contributing” cause. It may not matter if the complainant already had a condition that made the bodily harm more likely to happen from the act. For example, if someone is charged with assault causing bodily harm for punching the complainant in the chest and breaking their rib, it may not matter if the complainant had weak bones that caused their rib to break with a less forceful punch. However, the prosecutor still has to prove that the punch caused the bodily harm in a way that justifies holding the accused legally responsible. This “causation” issue depends on the facts of the case and can be complicated. That is why it is important to have an experienced criminal law lawyer on your side when facing this kind of criminal charge.

WHAT IS CHOKING, SUFFOCATING, OR STRANGLING?

Even when a weapon is not involved and no bodily harm is caused, a charge of assault by choking, suffocating, or strangling can be laid by the police. What is considered choking, suffocating, or strangling may sound straightforward, but it will depend on the facts of a case. For example, at trial, the prosecutor might be able to prove that the accused slightly bruised the complainant’s neck by applying force without consent, but not that the bruise was caused by choking, suffocating, or strangling. In this case, the accused might be convicted of just a simple assault, but not choking, suffocating or strangling.

THE FINAL WORD

Often, what might seem like a simple offence involves complicated legal distinctions that are important to your defence. That is why it is important to have an experienced criminal defence lawyer, like me, Susan Karpa, on your side. In past cases, I have successfully negotiated with the crown to have charges of assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm dropped altogether.