In Canada, a charge of domestic assault differs from a simple assault offence. Assault on a family or household member is considered an “aggravating factor” during sentencing for defendants who are convicted, making the potential penalties more severe. Prosecutors are also less likely to drop the charges in a domestic violence situation, making it more difficult to avoid a criminal conviction for domestic violence than for a regular assault.
Penalties for Domestic Assault in Canada
Penalties for a conviction of domestic assault depend on the nature and extent of the crime and your personal background. A conviction may result in jail or prison time of:
- Up to two years less a day for a summary conviction (minor offences)
- Up to five years if the Crown elects by indictment (serious offences)
- Up to ten years for sexual assault or assault causing bodily harm
- Up to 14 years for aggravated assault or if a child under 16 years old was sexually assaulted
Alternatives to Jail for a First-Time Domestic Assault Charge
First-time offenders may not have to spend time in jail for a case of minor assault and will often be able to avoid a criminal record. If a judge decides that you’re guilty, but the crime does not require a jail sentence, you could receive a:
- Discharge. The minimum sentence that can be imposed on a defendant who has been found guilty of assault is an absolute or conditional discharge. An absolute discharge means that you won’t have a criminal record for domestic assault. A conditional discharge means that you won’t have a criminal record for domestic assault upon completion of a prescribed period of probation.
- Summary conviction. The Crown attorney may elect to proceed summarily in minor assault cases and your trial will always take place in the Ontario Court of Justice. A summary conviction domestic assault charge will generally result in a lower range of sentence and lower maximum penalties compared to the Crown electing by indictment. However, if the Crown elects by indictment, you can strategically elect to be tried by a judge alone in the Ontario Court of Justice or by a judge alone in the Superior Court of Justice or by a judge and jury. If you are found guilty of a summary conviction domestic assault, but the judge decides that the offence doesn’t warrant jail time, you may be ordered to pay a fine of up to $5,000 or pay restitution to the alleged victim for any property damage or medical bills incurred in the incident.
- Suspended sentence. A judge can convict you of the offence but place you on probation for a certain period of time. During the probation period, you will be released and able to carry out most of the necessary actions of your life, but you will have to meet all of the conditions set out in your probation order. If you successfully complete probation, you will not have to serve jail time—but if you violate the terms of your probation, you could face additional charges and be sentenced to jail.
- Conditional sentence. If you are convicted of an offence that doesn’t require a minimum term of imprisonment such as domestic assault, but the court has imposed a sentence of two years imprisonment or less, you may be placed under house arrest instead of receiving a jail term. Your lawyer will have to convince the judge that allowing you to serve your sentence at home would not endanger the safety of your community and that house arrest would achieve the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing. Much like probation, you will have to comply with the conditions of your sentence, including supervision of your activities and behaviour in the community. Two of the exceptions to your house arrest will usually be that you can leave your residence for work purposes and to shop for necessities for several hours once per week.
We Can Help You Present Your Case in the Best Possible Light
There are many different ways to make prosecutor or judge more sympathetic to your case. For instance, domestic violence programs are often required as a condition of probation or house arrest. If you complete an appropriate counselling program before sentencing, the judge might show leniency by imposing a lighter sentence or allowing you to keep a clean criminal record.
If you are charged with domestic assault in Ontario, don’t give up and automatically enter a guilty plea. The experienced domestic assault defence lawyers at Kruse Law Firm can help you avoid conviction and minimize the effects of a criminal charge on your life. Contact us today to set up your your free meeting to learn how we can help you and obtain a quote for our services.