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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. P.S.A. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Assault.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to direct Crown counsel to gaps in the police investigation resulting in Crown deciding to not approve any charge in this matter. No criminal record.

R. vs. S.J. - Port Coquitlam Provincial Court

Charge: Driving While Prohibited. Issue: Whether the crown…

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

Charge: Assault; Uttering Threats (domestic).
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps our client achieved under our direction, whether there was a public interest in proceeding with the criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown counsel to stay the charges.  All restrictive conditions removed. No criminal record.

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

Charge: Assault (domestic).
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to point to a lack of evidence with respect to the charge resulting in Crown counsel entering a stay of proceedings. No criminal record.

R. vs. N.D. - Richmond Provincial Court

Charge: Sexual Assault.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to direct Crown counsel to various flaws in the prosecution's case. On the eve of a 4 day trial, Crown agreed to resolve this matter by way of a nine month Peace Bond. No criminal record.

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

Charge: Driving While Prohibited.
Issue: Whether it was appropriate for Crown counsel to proceed on this charge, which carries a mandatory minimum 12 month driving prohibition.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown to proceed on the lesser offence of driving without a valid driver's licence. After hearing Mr. johnson's submissions, the court imposed a $500 fine. No driving prohibition.

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

Charge: Assault Causing Bodily Harm.
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps our client had taken, whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the criminal charge.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown counsel to stay the criminal charge. Our client entered into a Peace Bond for a period of 9 months. No criminal record.

R. vs. Z.H. - Port Coquitlam Youth Court

Charge: Assault Causing Bodily Harm.
Issue: Whether, given the history between our client and the complainant, it was reasonable for our client apply  the level of force he used.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown to not approve any criminal charge but, rather, to resolve the matter through Restorative Justice. No criminal record.

Y.Y. vs. Superintendent of Motor Vehicles - Review of Driving Prohibition

Charge: Notice of Intent to Prohibit.
Issue: Whether RoadSafety BC had appropriate reasons to prohibit our client from driving for 4 months.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade the Superintendent's adjudicator that the 4 month driving prohibition was not warranted. The driving prohibition was reduced to 2 months.

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

Charges: Assault (x2); Threatening; Breach of Undertaking (domestic).
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps our client had taken, whether it was appropriate for the Court to convict him.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown to proceed on only a single count of assault. After hearing Mr. Mines' submissions, the Court granted our client a conditional discharge. No criminal conviction.  

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

Charges: Dangerous Driving Causing Bodily Harm; Driving Without Due Care and Attention.
Issue: Whether it was appropriate for Crown to charge our client under the Criminal Code or the Motor Vehicle Act in regard to an accident where our client's vehicle struck a cyclist from behind, causing serious injury.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to provide information to Crown which resulted in Crown proceeding under the Motor Vehicle Act. After hearing Mr. Mines' submissions, the Court sentenced our client to a $1000 fine and limited his ability to drive for 12 months. No criminal conviction. No loss of insurance coverage. No jail.

R. vs. C.G. - North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: s. 810 Peace Bond Application.
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps our client had taken, whether the complainant continued to have fear of our client.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to withdraw its Peace Bond application. No conditions. No 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.