aggravated assault

aggravated assault


Aggravated assault is the most serious assault charge someone can face in Canada. It is an assault where the complainant was wounded, maimed, disfigured, or their life was endangered.

What is the difference between an assault and an aggravated assault?

All criminal offences are made up of elements (i.e., ingredients). The elements of an aggravated assault are the same as for a regular assault, but the result of the assault is different. With a regular assault, the complainant suffered no bodily harm and were not wounded, maimed, disfigured, or had their life endangered.

What is the legal definition of an assault?

The elements of an assault are that the accused intentionally or recklessly applied force to the complainant without the complainant’s consent. Assaults where the complainant suffered no bodily harm and were not wounded, maimed, disfigured, or had their life endangered are sometimes also referred to as “simple assaults”. For more information on simple assaults, click here.

What is an assault causing bodily harm?

Assault causing bodily harm is an upgraded version of assault. It has the same elements of assault, except the complainant suffered “bodily harm”. Bodily harm means the complainant suffered harm that was more than transient or trifling.

When does an assault become an assault causing bodily harm?

There is no clear dividing line between harm that is transient or trifling and harm that goes beyond that. In practice, BC prosecutors will charge an accused with assault if the complainant alleges they suffered no more than a few bruises or scratches.

If an assault resulted in bleeding, significant bruising, or lumps, BC prosecutors are more likely to charge the accused with assault causing bodily harm. If the complainant had concussion symptoms, that can also be charged as an assault causing bodily harm. The meaning of “bodily harm” includes brain injuries or psychological damage, as long as they are more than transient or trifling.

What is the difference between assault, assault causing bodily harm, and aggravated assault?

Aggravated assault has the same elements as assault, except the complainant was also wounded, maimed, disfigured, or their life was endangered.

The difference between assault, assault causing bodily harm, and aggravated assault is in the result (i.e., outcome) of the assault. The more the complainant was hurt by the assault, the more likely the accused will be charged with an upgraded version of assault (either assault causing bodily harm or aggravated assault).

Are there other upgraded versions of assault, apart from assault causing bodily harm and aggravated assault?

There are two other upgraded versions of simple assault, but the differences between them and a simple assault do not depend on the result of the assault. Instead, they depend on the circumstances of the assault. These are assault with a weapon and assault by choking.

An assault with a weapon is any assault where the perpetrator carried, used, or threatened to use a weapon. A weapon is any “thing”, as long as it was used to assault someone with. A weapon could be a shoe, a plastic cup, a piece of clothing… anything. If it’s a thing, it can be a weapon and meet the legal definition of “assault with a weapon” provided the thing was used as a weapon.

An assault by choking is any assault where the accused is alleged to have choked the complainant. It does not depend on the result of the assault, but on the act itself.

When do people get charged with aggravated assault?

Although there are four outcomes that meet the definition of aggravated assault (wounding, maiming, disfiguring, or endangering life), the outcome that will most commonly meet the definition of an aggravated assault is wounding. That’s because someone who was maimed, disfigured, or had their life endangered will typically also have been wounded.

In practice, BC prosecutors will charge aggravated assaults where the harm suffered by the complainant is alleged to have been broken bones, broken cartilage, cuts requiring stitches, or worse.

How does the law define “wounding”, “maiming”, and “disfiguring”?

The legal definition of wounding is “a break in the continuity of the whole skin that also constitutes serious bodily harm”. Serious bodily harm means “any hurt or injury that interferes in a substantial way with the integrity, health or well-being of the complainant”.

The legal definition of maiming is “to inflict an injury that deprives a person of the use of a limb or renders the victim less able to defend themselves.” This means that breaking someone’s bones or otherwise making them unable to use their body properly means the harm they suffered was enough to count as an aggravated assault.

The legal definition of disfiguring is “impairing or injuring the beauty, symmetry, or appearance of a person”. Although the word “disfigure” implies an injury to the face, a facial injury is not necessary for its legal definition. The injury must simply be persistent and harmful to a person’s appearance. That means the legal definition of aggravated assault can be met without breaking skin (no wound) or injuring bodily functions (no maiming) if it still harmed the victim’s long-term appearance (i.e., disfigured them).

How does the law define “endangering life” for the purpose of an aggravated assault?

There is no elaborate legal definition of “endangering life” for the purpose of an aggravated assault. This is a fact-specific question that will depend on the circumstances of each case.

One example where someone could be found guilty of aggravated assault despite neither wounding, maiming, or disfiguring the complainant is if they discharged a firearm near the complainant and the bullet missed. There would be no actual harm to the complainant, but the accused would have endangered their life.

Of course, if someone shoots somebody with a firearm, they could also be charged with the offence of discharging a firearm with intent to endanger life. However, for someone to be guilty of that offence the prosecutor must prove they intended to endanger life. An accused could be guilty of aggravated assault for discharging a firearm near a complainant, even if they never intended to endanger the complainant’s life. If the accused was reckless, that is enough. This means it is easier for a prosecutor to prove an aggravated assault than to prove the offence of discharging a firearm with intent to endanger life.

How does intention play a role in aggravated assault?

In general, the law does not criminalize acts that a person does not intend. For someone to be guilty of an assault, they need to have intentionally or recklessly applied force to another person. “Reckless” means they knew they might apply force to another person but took that risk anyway.

Upgraded versions of assault also require some intention with regard to the result of the assault. For someone to be guilty of aggravated assault, the complainant must not only have been wounded, maimed, disfigured, or had their life endangered, but a reasonable person in the accused’s shoes would have also foreseen the risk of inflicting bodily harm to the complainant.

This mental exercise can be confusing, but it is a very common legal test. We call it an “objective test”, which means that instead of asking whether the accused foresaw the risk of harm from their actions, we ask whether a reasonable person in their shoes would have foreseen the risk of harm from their actions. If the legal test were about what the accused actually foresaw (as opposed to a reasonable person in their shoes), then we would call it a “subjective test”.

So, there are two aspects to intention with aggravated assault:

  1. Intent regarding the assaultive act; and
  2. Intend regarding the result of the act.

For the assaultive act, the accused must have intentionally or recklessly applied force to the complainant. For the result of the act, a reasonable person in the accused’s shoes must have foreseen the risk of bodily harm from applying force to the complainant.

What should I do if I’m being charged with aggravated assault?

You should retain a lawyer right away. All violent offences are serious, but aggravated assault is the most serious assault charge in the Criminal Code that someone can face. The charge carries a maximum punishment of 14 years in jail. If you are guilty of aggravated assault, it is not possible to avoid a criminal record. Lengthy jail sentences are also common.

The lawyers at Filkow Law are experts at criminal law and have vast experience defending assault charges. We can help. Do not hesitate to call us right away.

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Allegations of assault offences are very common.  From pushing and shoving to punching and kicking, assault is the most common type of violent crime.  This article outlines the different types of assaults recognized in Canadian law and provides some explanation of each.

What is an Assault Offence?

Assault is defined as the intentional application of force to another person, directly or indirectly, without that other person’s consent.  Simply put, an assault occurs as soon as person A touches person B without person B’s consent.  Any unwanted touching is an assault.  There are a few features of assault that are important to understand.

First, the application of force must be intentional.  If person A accidentally touches person B, then they have not committed an assault.  Tripping and falling into another person, bumping into them while distracted, and being pushed into someone by a third party are not assaults because the application of force was unintentional.

Second, as set out in the definition, the application of force can be indirect.  Suppose person A intentionally pushes person B into person C.  In this scenario, person A is responsible for assaulting both person B and person C.  Person A assaulted person B because he directly applied force to person B, and person A also assaulted person C because he indirectly applied force to person C by pushing person B into person C.

Is tapping someone on the shoulder assault?

Third, any physical contact without consent that is more than trifling is an assault.  Only the most minor and trifling physical contact is not an assault.  For example, if person A taps person B’s shoulder to get their attention, person A has not committed an assault because the touching is so minor.

Assault is also defined as “an attempt or threat, by any act or a gesture, to apply force to another person, that causes the other person to reasonably believe that the person will apply force to them”.  This means an assault can be committed even when there is no physical contact.  An act or gesture can be an assault.  An example of this occurs when person A raises their fist to person B in a way that makes person B reasonably believe he is about to be punched.  In this example, person A has assaulted person B even though there was no physical contact.

A conviction for assault can result in a criminal record, a jail sentence and other consequences.

Assault With a Weapon

Assault with a weapon is defined as an assault where a person “carries, uses or threatens to use a weapon or an imitation thereof”.

Assault with a weapon shares the essential elements of an assault with the addition of a weapon.  A “weapon” is defined as “any thing used, designed to be used or intended for use: (a) in causing death or injury to any person, or (b) for the purpose of threatening or intimidating any person”.

The law recognizes some items as weapons.  For example, firearms, switch blades, stilettos, butterfly knives and brass knuckles.  These are all weapons because they are designed to cause death or injury.

But depending on the context, anything – from a cell phone to a water bottle to a stapler – can become a weapon.  Whether a thing is a weapon is defined by its context.  Suppose during an argument person A grabs a stapler and hits person B with it.  In this scenario, person A assaulted person B with a weapon.  The stapler was simply a stapler until it was used in an assault.  Once used to hit person B, the stapler became a weapon.

Assault Causing Bodily Harm

An assault causing bodily harm is defined as an assault that results in bodily harm.  “Bodily harm” is defined 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”.  The threshold for bodily harm is low.  It includes injuries such as bruising and cuts.

Assault causing bodily harm is defined by its outcome and not its intention.  For example, suppose person A punches person B and person C at separate times but in an identical manner.  Person B is cut by the punch and person C is not.  Even though the act of punching was the same in each case, person A committed assault causing bodily harm against person B because person B was cut.  It does not matter whether person A intended the cut to happen.

Assault causing bodily harm is more serious than an assault without bodily harm and can result in a more significant sentence on conviction.

Aggravated Assault

Aggravated assault is defined as an assault that “wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the complainant”.  This means that there are effectively four separate kinds of aggravated assaults: those that wound; those that maim; those that disfigure; and, those that endanger life.

A “wound” is defined as “a break in the continuity of the whole skin that constitutes serious bodily harm”.  A stabbing meets the definition of a wound.

“Maim” means “the loss of the use of some body part or some bodily function”.  Breaking someone’s arm or leg is maiming.  The loss of use of this body part or function does not need to be permanent to constitute maiming.

“Disfigurement” is an injury that has a long-lasting and significant effect on the appearance or beauty of a person.  Examples include scarring as a result of cuts, acid or burns.  A temporary effect on a person’s appearance, such as a bruise or a black eye, is not a disfigurement.

“Endangering” means to endanger a person’s life as a result of a completed assault.  The following two examples help illustrate the definition:

  1. Person A pushes person B on a 4th-floor balcony causing person B to go over the railing.  Person B manages to hang on.  Person B is not harmed but his life was put in danger as a result of the assault.
  2. Person A pushes person B into a busy intersection with many fast-moving vehicles.  Person B is fortunate that the drivers see him and avoid a collision.

In both cases, the assault itself did not result in any harm or injury, but the person’s life was put in danger by the assault.

Aggravated assault is more serious than assault causing bodily harm and will usually attract a jail sentence upon conviction.

Domestic Assault

Domestic or spousal assault refers to any form of assault against an intimate partner or a family member.  A domestic assault is an aggravating circumstance on sentence if convicted.  An “intimate partner” is defined as a “current or former spouse, common-law partner and dating partner”.  Any assault against a girlfriend or boyfriend is a domestic assault.

Domestic assaults require special consideration for a few reasons.

First, an allegation of a domestic assault will routinely result in an accused person being put on conditions not to go to near their partner and not to contact their partner.  There are limited exceptions.  This can be challenging when a couple lives together or coparents children.

Second, domestic assaults may overlap with family court proceedings.  A decision in one case may affect the other.  This requires coordination between a family lawyer and a criminal lawyer.

Third, if the couple has children, the Ministry of Children and Family Development may send a social worker to investigate and make decisions about where a child should live or whether a protection order is required.  The Ministry has the authority to impose their own conditions separate from the police and the court based on the best interests of the children.

Uttering Threats

Uttering threats is defined as “knowingly uttering, conveying, or causing any person to receive a threat (a) to cause death or bodily harm to any person; (b) to burn, destroy or damage real or personal property; or (c) to kill, poison or injure an animal or bird that is the property of any person”.  In other words, three specific types of threats are prohibited: threats to kill or harm someone; threats to damage property; and threats to injure a pet.

Allegations Of Assault Offences

Allegations of assault and uttering threats can be complex and serious.  The lawyers at Filkow Law have extensive experience in defending people from these types of charges.  If you find yourself being investigated or charged with this type of offence, call us immediately.

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