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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. v. S.C. – Vancouver Police Investigation

Charge: Assault.
Issue: Whether there was credible evidence that would meet the charge approval standard.
Result: Mr. Gauthier provided information to the investigating officer that led the investigator to conclude that our client was not chargeable with a criminal offence. No charge approved. No criminal record.

R. vs. C.K. – Richmond Provincial Court

Charges: Assault; Forcible Confinement (domestic).
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps we were able to guide our through, whether it was in the public interest for our client to be sentenced to a criminal record.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to persuade Crown to proceed only on the assault charge and, after hearing Mr. Gauthier's submissions, the Court granted our client a conditional discharge. No criminal conviction.

R.M. vs. Superintendent of Motor Vehicles

Charge: 90 Day Immediate Roadside prohibition.
Issue: Whether the police report established, on balance, that our client had refused to provide a breath sample during a roadside impaired driving investigation.
Result: The adjudicator agreed with Mr. Mines' submissions that our client's evidence was more reliable than the evidence set out in the Police Report to the Superintendent. The 90 day driving prohibition was overturned and our client was ruled eligible to resume driving.

R. vs. E.W. – Fort Nelson Provincial Court

Charge: Assault (domestic).
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a criminal conviction.
Result: Upon reviewing the allegations, Mr. Mines made representations to Crown counsel resulting in Crown agreeing that there was no reasonable prospect of convicting our client. No charges were approved. No criminal record.

R. vs. H.K. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault Peace Officer; Mischief Under $5000.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to proceed with criminal charges.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to  persuade Crown counsel to allow our client into the Alternative Measures Program and to enter a stay of proceedings on both charges upon our client completing the program. No criminal record.

R. vs. R.S. – Richmond Provincial Court

Charge: Breach of Probation (from weapons charge).
Issue: Whether there was a public interest in proceeding with the prosecution of our client who had failed to complete a course of court ordered counselling.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to steer our client through an equivalent course of counselling. Upon completion, Crown counsel stayed the proceedings. No criminal record.

R. vs. S.P. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Mischief Causing Danger to Life.
Issue: Given the medical evidence Mr. Gauthier provided to Crown counsel, whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to persuade Crown counsel to enter a stay of proceedings. No criminal record.

R. vs. R.A. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Breaking & Entering; Unlawful Confinement; Assault.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest for the prosecution to continue against our client, a U.S. citizen who was in Canada on a visitor's visa.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to enter a stay of proceedings on all charges upon our client agreeing to a Deportation Order. No criminal record.

R. vs. P.N. – Surrey Provincial Court

Charge: Dangerous Driving Causing Death. Issue: Whether Crown could prove that our client had the necessary intent to prove that she was guilty of the criminal charge. Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to proceed under the Motor Vehicle Act rather than the Criminal Code. After hearing Mr. Mines'  submissions, the Court sentenced our client to 60 days to be served on weekends. The Crown had originally sought a sentence in the range of 2 years.

R. vs. L.A. – New Westminster Provincial Court

Charge: Breach of Probation (from domestic assault charge).
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to prosecute our client for failing to report and complete counselling.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to guide our client back onto an alternative course of rehabilitation and persuaded Crown counsel to enter a stay of proceedings. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. M.K. – Richmond Provincial Court

Charges: Uttering Threats; Extortion.
Issue: Given the age of the charges and the rehabilitative steps our client had taken, whether a jail sentence was appropriate.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to seek a non custodial sentence. After hearing Mr. Mines' submissions, the Court granted our client a suspended sentence and placed him on probation for 16 months. No jail.

R. vs. K.A. – Western Communities Provincial Court

Charge: Assault (domestic).
Issues: Given the information we provided to Crown counsel regarding the complainant's past unlawful behaviour toward our client, whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction.
Result: As a result of the information we provided, Crown counsel withdrew the charge. No further bail restrictions. No criminal record.

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.