What Is An 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:
- Intent regarding the assaultive act; and
- 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.
March 14, 2023 By West Pryde