Assaults, Threats, and Harassment
Assaults, Threats, and Harassment
If you have been charged with assaulting, threatening, or harassing someone – including situations involving domestic violence – I am here to help. I am experienced in defending these types of charges. I can help you to work towards avoiding a criminal conviction and minimize the negative personal impact of these kinds of allegations.
In Canadian criminal law, there are several different types of assaults. The key element to any assault is that it involves an intentional act of violence towards another person, without their consent.
Although this usually involves physical violence, it does not need to. The offence of assault may be made out even where a person is not physically touched.
For you to be found guilty of any kind of assault, the crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you did one of the following:
- Applied force to someone – either directly or indirectly – without their consent.
- Attempted or threatened (by act or gesture) to apply force to a person, such that it causes them to reasonably believe that you had the ability to carry it out.
- Begged, accosted or impeded another person while openly wearing a weapon.
The crown must also prove that the act or gesture was intentional.
There are a broad range of situations where police decide to proceed with assault charges. Unfortunately, in many of these situations, the police tend to lay charges in haste, not fully exploring whether or not charges are truly warranted. Situations may arise where the defence of self-defence is clearly applicable, and yet the police lay assault charges anyway. The most common situation that I see where charges should not have been laid is that of domestic assault.
Assault charges stemming from conflict within domestic relationships are commonplace.
The Criminal Code does not have a specified offence called domestic violence or domestic assault; rather, it is an informal term used to cover crimes such as assault and uttering threats that have a domestic (spousal or family) component, or which occur in the context of a family or intimate relationship.
For example, you might commit an assault against a coworker, but the assault gains a domestic component if it is committed against your spouse, child, parent, sexual partner, sibling or other family member.
Domestic assault charges are considered serious because of the nature of the relationship is deemed to be that of a trust relationship. If you have been charged with this type of offence, as a term of your release, you will likely be ordered not to return to your home if you reside with the complainant, and you will likely have a no contact provision in place, making it a breach of the release if you contact the complainant in any number of ways.
Additionally, a domestic element is considered an aggravating factor in any sentence that you receive if you are convicted.
Once the complainant has instituted the involvement of police in a domestic violence case, he or she loses control of the process against you. It is the crown prosecutor who decides whether the charges against you will proceed, regardless of what the complainant wants. Even if complainant later changes his or her mind and wants the charges against you dropped, this does not automatically result in the case against you being withdrawn. This decision is solely up to the crown prosecutor.
If you have been accused of a domestic violence-related offence – no matter how minor – it can have a profound and devastating effect on you, your family relationships, your work, and your reputation. A conviction can also impact the outcome of existing family law proceedings you may be involved in, including child custody disputes.
Many trials involving domestic violence charges hinge on the court’s assessment of credibility. Often, a court will determine which of two versions of events is believed – yours, or the complainant’s. The circumstances leading up to the alleged incident will be scrutinized and the crown can only succeed in obtaining a conviction if the court believes that all of the elements of the offence have been established beyond a reasonable doubt.
For this reason, the defence of a domestic assault charge requires the help of an experienced criminal lawyer who can dissect the complainant’s version of events. This will increase the likelihood that the crown will fail to prove the essential elements of the offence.
Assault with a Weapon & Assault Causing Bodily Harm
In addition to a regular or common assault, the Criminal Code also sets out more serious types of assault. These are:
- Assault with a weapon.
- Assault causing bodily harm.
These types of assaults are considered more serious because they involve a higher degree of harm or potential harm to the complainant.
Unlike what people may think, a weapon can be any number of items. While guns and knives often come to mind, a weapon may be considered something as big as a vehicle or as small as a rock, shoe, or cellphone. The Criminal Code defines a weapon as any thing used, designed to be used or intended for use in causing death or injury to any person or for the purpose of threatening or intimidating them. It does not matter so much what was used as a weapon, but how the item was used against the other person.
Likewise, bodily harm is defined in the Criminal Code as any hurt or injury to a person that interferes with the health or comfort of the person and that is more than merely transient or trifling in nature. Therefore, bodily harm is not always considered serious injury to another person, it may be injury as small as a cut or bruise.
In many cases I will be able to challenge whether the alleged weapon used or the bodily harmed suffered meets the Criminal Code definitions. Part of my practice is analyzing the evidence against you and negotiating with the Crown about whether the right charge was laid. In many cases I will be able to argue against the elevated charge of assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm. This can lead to successful resolution, often avoiding a criminal record altogether or increasing the likelihood of success at trial.
New Form of Assault – Choking, Suffocating or Strangling
Parliament has amended the Criminal Code through the recent Bill C-75. A new form of an assault charge has now come into force that includes assault where a complainant has been choked, suffocated or strangled.
This section of the Criminal Code is subject to the same sentencing provisions as assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm. As with those types of assaults, the same types of strategies of my practice will allow me to challenge this type of charge.
The most serious type of assault is aggravated assault. Assault is considered aggravated assault where a complainant is wounded, maimed, disfigured or where their life is endangered.
This type of charge is typically laid where the injury to the person is quite serious. The crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt both that an assault occurred and that the assault was to the level of injury to be considered aggravated.
In my practice I have seen this type of charge more common in fights where several people are involved. In these cases, your specific role in the fight may provide a defence to you. Alternatively, I may be able to negotiate the charge down to a less serious form of assault, or there may be any number of defences available to you at trial.
Because of the seriousness of this type of charge, it is imperative that you retain an experienced criminal lawyer like myself to help you achieve the best possible outcome.
Although it is not truly an assault crime, the Criminal Code also sets out the offence of forcible confinement which involves depriving an individual of the liberty to move from one point to another, by unlawfully confining, imprisoning, or forcibly seizing that person.
This type of offence often accompanies an assault charge, as complainants will frequently claim that they were unable or not allowed to leave an area while being assaulted. In my practice I usually see forcible confinement combined with a domestic assault charge. For example, a spouse or domestic partner might claim that he or she was unable to leave the house while a domestic dispute that resulted in an assault occurred.
Police are often quick to lay charges despite the facts not always supporting a charge of forcible confinement. This is where I can use my expertise as a defence counsel to negotiate with the crown prosecutor where the evidence does not lend itself to the pile on of charges.
The Criminal Code makes it an offence to knowingly issue a threat to someone else, in certain circumstances. You may be charged if you have threatened to:
- Cause death or bodily harm to any person.
- Damage, destroy, or burn property.
- Hurt or kill a person’s animals, whether pets or livestock
The crown must prove that:
- You made the threat.
- You knowingly uttered the threat.
- You threatened a person (i.e. the complainant), with death or bodily harm, damage/destruction of their property, or harm or death to their animals.
In my experience, many charges of uttering threats arise when the spoken words have been taken out of context by the complainant. Likewise, words are sometimes manipulated or changed by the complainant so that they appear to be much more serious than they were intended. You might even have a totally different version of the conversation you had with the complainant than he or she does.
Because of this, uttering threats charges often hinge on the court’s assessment of credibility. A court will determine which of two versions of events is believed – yours, or the complainant’s. The circumstances leading up to the alleged threats and the context of the relationship between you and the complainant will be assessed. Ultimately, the crown can only succeed in obtaining a conviction if the court believes that all of the elements of the offence have been established beyond a reasonable doubt.
In some circumstances, this type of charge may also accompany an assault or forcible confinement charge.
A charge of criminal harassment involves the complainant contacting the police over a pattern of behaviour that a person may have engaged in. If you have been charged with criminal harassment, you may have:
- Repeatedly communicated with the complainant, whether directly or indirectly.
- Repeatedly followed the complainant from place to place.
- Watched the complainant either at their home, their place of work, or at the home or place of work of someone the complainant knows.
- Engaged in threatening conduct that was directed at the complainant or their family.
To secure a conviction, the crown must prove that the complainant feared for his or her safety, or for the safety of anyone else they know, and that the assailant was reckless or willfully blind as to whether the complainant was being or feeling harassed. One of the key elements to prove the offence is that the complainant experienced a reasonable fear under the circumstances.
In my practice, I often see this type of charge arise out of a domestic relationship. For example, you may be going through a breakup where emotions are running high. You might be innocently trying to contact your former partner, but your former partner may not want to speak to you. If your former partner’s tolerance for you is low, they might choose to contact the police.
Unfortunately, the police may not always be given the full context of the relationship, and their threshold for charges to be laid is quite low. It is in these circumstances where I can use my expertise to negotiate with the crown and provide the full story. In many cases, my knowledge and skill in this area results in charges being withdrawn or other successful resolutions for my clients.
Potential Penalties – Assault, Uttering Threats, Harassment
The majority of cases I handle result in a positive result for my clients. As always, my goal is to try to resolve the matter for you by having the charges dropped or withdrawn outright.
However, it is always important to know what the range of sentences are that you might face, depending on what you have been charged with. This will guide you in determining what type of help you will need.
First, in certain circumstances, you may be able to receive a conditional discharge for your assault, threats or harassment charges, which will require you to abide by certain conditions that may include domestic violence counselling if the allegation occurred in the context of a domestic relationship. This type of sentence will discharge you of a criminal conviction after a period of probation and an additional specified period of time. It is important to note that arguing for a conditional discharge can be complex and is only available for certain offences and if certain criteria are met.
If a conditional discharge is not granted to you or available for your offence, and you are ultimately convicted of one of the assaults and harassment-based offences listed above, you will have a criminal record, and may also face any number of potential penalties, including:
- A fine.
- Probation with conditions that may include domestic violence counselling.
- Jail time, whether actual jail or jail to be served as a conditional sentence order (a jail sentence served within the community)
Even if you have merely been accused of domestic violence, the court will often impose a condition that you have no contact with family members until the charges are resolved.
This means that it is important for you to get prompt legal advice from an experienced criminal lawyer like me who can address whether these conditions remain in place. Otherwise you may find yourself in a position where you are unnecessarily and unfairly expelled from the family home, with no contact with your spouse or children.
If you are facing one of these charges (or if you are being investigated but have not yet been formally charged) it is important to retain a lawyer. I can explain the strategy for fighting the charges, the repercussions of a guilty plea, the nature of a peace bond if applicable, and other related aspects of the assault, uttering threats or harassment charges.
Call me, Susan Karpa, an experienced ASSAULT lawyer.
Because of the high stakes involved with assault and other domestic violence offences, it is important to get my prompt assistance so that I can advocate on your behalf and help navigate the next steps.
It is my job to help you understand what your best possible path forward is.