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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.L. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Sexual assault; Unlawful Confinement; Assault by Choking.
Issue: Given the impact of the additional evidence that Mr. Johnson provided to Crown counsel, whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction.
Result: Crown counsel agreed that the new evidence significantly undermined the strength of the case.  Crown counsel entered a stay of proceedings, bringing the prosecution to an end. No jail. No criminal record.

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

Charge: Assault.
Issue: Whether it was appropriate for our client to receive a suspended sentence despite having two prior assault convictions.
Result: After hearing Mr. Mines' submissions, the trial judge granted our client a suspended sentence with 12 months of " non reporting" probation.  No jail.

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

Charges: Indecent Act; Mischief (reduced to Peace Bond).
Issue: Whether the Crown could prove that our client intended to commit a criminal offence.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to enter a stay of proceedings on the the criminal charges upon our client entering into a Peace Bond. No criminal record.

R. vs. B.I. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault.
Issue: Given the Covid-19 pandemic, whether it was appropriate to refer our client into the Alternative Measures Program for this assault by spitting offence.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to provide Crown counsel with compelling information about our client which resulted in Crown allowing our client into Alternative Measures and staying the charge upon our client completing the program. No criminal record.

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

Charges: Assault with a Weapon; Uttering Threats x2; Unlawful Confinement.
Issues: Whether Crown could prove that a weapon was used or that the complainant was unlawfully confined.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to accept pleas to the lesser charges of common assault and uttering a threat. After hearing Mr. Mines' submissions on our client's behalf, the trail judge granted our client a conditional discharge. No jail; no permanent criminal record.

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

Charge: Driving while prohibited.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the prohibited driving charge.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown counsel to proceed on the lesser charge of driving without possessing a valid driver's licence. Rather than the 12 month minimum mandatory driving prohibition, our client received a 4 month prohibition.

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

Charge: Assault (domestic).
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps we were able to guide our client through, whether it was in the public interest to continue with the criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown counsel to enter a stay of proceedings on the assault charge upon you entering into a s. 810 peace bond. No criminal record.

R. vs. R.M. - Insurance fraud investigation

Charge: Fraud Under $5000.
Issue: Whether there was a public interest in proceeding with the prosecution in this extended health insurance fraud matter.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to negotiate a civil settlement and to persuade the investigator to not pursue a prosecution. No criminal record.

R. vs. D.P. - Vancouver provincial Court

Charge: Uttering a Threat (reduced to Peace Bond).
Issues: Whether the words uttered were clearly a threat or not.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel that the words were vague. Crown agreed to end the criminal prosecution upon our client entering into a Peace Bond with a "no contact" condition. No criminal record.

R. vs. B.R. - Port Coquitlam Provincial Court

Charges: Mischief to Property (x2).
Issue: Whether, given our client's circumstances, it was appropriate to continue the criminal prosecution of this matter which involved damage in excess of $5000 to two vehicles.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown counsel to allow our client into the Alternative Measures Program and to stay both criminal charges upon completion. No criminal record.

R. vs. V. P. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault, Uttering Threats.
Issue: Given the context of this threatening and assault by spitting offence, whether it was appropriate for our client to be convicted.
Result: Mr. Gauthier provided additional information to the Crown and the Court about our client and was able to persuade the judge to grant our client a conditional discharge. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. P. I. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Sexual Assault (reduced to assault).
Issue: Given our client's mental health issues, whether it was in the public interest for Crown to continue with the sex assault prosecution.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to provide information top Crown counsel and to persuade Crown to proceed with a charge of common assault. After hearing Mr. Johnson's submissions, the court granted our client a conditional discharge. no criminal conviction. no jail, no sex offender registry.

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.