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Domestic (Spousal) Assault

The Charge

Police and prosecutors in British Columbia have a zero tolerance policy with respect to domestic violence. Whenever police receive a complaint that domestic violence has occurred, they will take swift action to investigate. When they reach the conclusion that an offence has probably taken place, they will arrest the accused. Policy dictates that the accused must be held in custody until police can ascertain that the complainant is safe, and the accused will not be released until they appear in court for a bail hearing and are released only on their promise to not have contact with the complainant until the prosecution concludes.  In most cases, a “no contact” order will have the effect of forcing the accused to, at least temporarily, find other accommodation. It can also have a huge impact on the ability for the accused to have contact with any children of the relationship. Clearly, domestic violence allegations have the capacity to severely change the lives of family members.

Assault

A majority of domestic assault allegations result in charges of common assault, pursuant to s. 265 of the Criminal Code. Assault is defined as “force that is intentionally applied to another person without their consent.” Typical domestic assault allegations involve allegations of shoving, hitting, or kicking. More serious allegations involve acts that result in bodily harm or acts that involve weapons, including objects used as a weapon.

Threatening

Under s. 264.1 of the Criminal Code, anyone who knowingly utters a threat to another person to cause death or bodily harm, or to damage or destroy property, is guilty of an offence. The gist of the offence is that the Crown prosecutor must prove that the accused intended their remarks to genuinely cause fear in the complainant. The history of the couple’s relationship and the context under which the words were spoken will play a significant role in prosecutions for threatening.

Criminal Harassment

Section 264(1) of the Criminal Code sets out the requirements that the prosecution must prove in cases of criminal harassment. The offence generally involves proving that the accused conducted a pattern of behavior that caused the complainant to “fear for their safety or of anyone known to them.” The law prohibits conduct such as: repeatedly following a person from place to place; repeatedly communicating with a person either directly or indirectly; besetting or watching the person at their home or workplace; or engaging in threatening conduct directed at the person or their family.

The Investigation

How and when a complaint is made to police will determine the nature of the investigation into a domestic violence complaint. In some cases, it is the target of the alleged violence themselves who calls police. In others, it is a person who observed the incident. In some situations, police are called immediately; in other situations, police are only called days, weeks or months after the alleged incident. In all cases, when police receive a complaint, they will move quickly to investigate and possibly arrest the suspect. Police will always want to hear the suspect’s side of things. As experienced lawyers, this is where we can help our clients understand that their Charter rights guarantee that they need not speak to police because s. 7 of the Charter guarantees the right to remain silent.

In situations where clients contact us before they are arrested, we will contact police to make inquiry. We act as a “buffer” between our client and police. There is nothing that we can say on our client’s behalf that can be used against them. We will strive for police to not recommend charges, or where charges do go forward, we will strive to arrange for an early release from custody on the most liberal conditions that are appropriate.

Recent Successes

R. vs. J.T. - Surrey Provincial Court

Charges: Assault; Resist /Obstruct Police.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction and whether there was a public interest in proceeding with the charges.
Result: Mr. Johnson provided Crown with additional information regarding the alleged facts of the assault complaint and the excessive force used by police in arresting our client.  Ultimately Mr. Johnson persuaded Crown counsel to stay the proceedings on both charges. No criminal record.

R. vs. J.M. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Assault Causing Bodily Harm.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest for our client to receive a conviction on this charge.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade the Court to grant our client a conditional discharge. No conviction.

R. vs. T.A. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Commit Indecent Act.
Issue: Whether it was appropriate for Crown to proceed with the charge.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to present information on our client's behalf and was able to persuade Crown counsel that there was no longer any public interest in proceeding with this matter. Stay of proceedings. Warrant cancelled. No criminal record.

R. vs. H.L. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Driving While Prohibited.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the charge.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown to proceed on the lesser offence of driving without a valid licence. Rather than a mandatory minimum 12 month driving prohibition, our client was sentenced to a $300 fine and a 3 month prohibition.

R. vs. L.W. - North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Criminal Harassment (reduced to Peace Bond).
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest for Crown to prosecute our client on the criminal harassment charge;
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown to stay the criminal charge upon our client entering into a s. 810 Peace Bond for 12 months. No criminal record.

R. vs. K.M. - Surrey RCMP Investigation

Charge: Sexual Assault.
Issue: Whether there was sufficient evidence to meet the Crown's charge approval standard.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to steer our client through the investigation and was able to provide information to police and Crown which culminated in Crown counsel's decision to not approve any charges. No criminal record.

R. vs. P.H.S. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Driving While Prohibited.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest for Crown to proceed with the charge.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown to allow our client to plead to s. 24(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act. Rather than the mandatory minimum 12 month driving prohibition, our client was sentenced to a $300 fine and a two month driving prohibition.

R. vs. K.K. - North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Sexual Assault x2; Sexual Interference.
Issue: Given the extensive information that we were able to provide to Crown counsel, whether there remained a substantial likelihood of a conviction.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown counsel to enter a stay of proceedings on all counts. No jail. No criminal record.

R. vs. C.F. - Port Coquitlam Provincial Court

Charge: Assault (reduced to s. 810 Peace Bond).
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps we were able to guide our client through, whether it was appropriate for Crown to proceed.
Result: Mr. Mines was first able to persuade Crown to proceed on a Peace Bond application rather than the criminal assault charge. He was then able to persuade Crown to withdraw its Peace Bond application. No criminal record.

R. vs. T.K.- Abbotsford Provincial Court

Charge: Driving without consideration; driving past police vehicle; speeding.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to proceed with all counts, which upon conviction would have led to a driving prohibition.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to negotiate a resolution where our client pleaded guilty to only a three point speeding ticket and police withdrew the remaining counts. Our client was sentenced to a fine. No driving prohibition.

R. vs. E.W. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Assault.
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps we were able to guide our client through, whether it was in the public interest for our client to receive a criminal conviction.
Result: After hearing Mr. Johnson's submissions on our client's behalf, the court granted our client a conditional discharge. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. J.D. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Driving while Prohibited.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to proceed with this charge which carries a one year mandatory minimum driving prohibition.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown counsel to permit our client to resolve this matter by pleading guilty to the lesser offence of driving without a valid licence. Our client was sentenced to a fine. No driving prohibition.

The Defence

Self-defence and consent are defences to an assault allegation. Lack of intention is a defence to allegations of uttering a threat and criminal harassment. We are lawyers experienced in advancing these defences in trial courts, where we have certainly had success.

Domestic violence cases, however, are often different from other assault or threatening cases because of the family dynamic at play. A criminal charge and conviction affects not only the accused person but their partner and any children as well. Each domestic violence case is unique, because the needs of each family member must be balanced with the community’s need to promote safety within the family unit.

In a significant number of cases, the alleged victim does not want the matter to proceed. It is the Crown counsel, however, that has control over the prosecution. This can become a very complex issue. Our experience often allows us to deal with domestic violence cases by seeking extra-judicial measures to resolve the case without a criminal conviction. We are able to assist clients by finding appropriate resources, such as counselling for substance abuse or anger management. The goal is to avoid a criminal conviction.

Section 810 Recognizance (Peace Bond)

The Criminal Code provides an alternative to a domestic assault prosecution, commonly known as a s. 810 Peace Bond. The distinction is important, because a person placed on a peace bond is not “convicted” and is not considered to have a criminal record. A peace bond usually limits or prevents contact with the complainant. To obtain a peace bond, the Crown must prove, on balance, that the complainant “has a reasonable fear for their safety,” based on the defendant’s past actions. With over 30 years’ experience in domestic assault cases, we understand when it may be appropriate to seek resolution of an assault or threatening charge by entering into a peace bond. Our goal is to obtain the best possible result.

Start with a free consultation.

If you are being investigated by police or if you’ve been charged with a criminal or driving offence, don’t face the problem alone. Being accused of an offence is stressful. The prospects of a criminal record or jail sentence can be daunting. Even if you think there is no defence, we may be able to help. To schedule a free initial consultation with one of our Vancouver lawyers, contact us now.