INTRODUCTION AND BRIEF DESCRIPTION
Aggravated assault is an augmented form of assault simpliciter as found at section 266 of the Criminal Code. In addition to requiring an unwanted application of force, the offenc of aggravated assault requires the intent to wound, main or disfigure the victim, or endangers that person's life. Aggravated assault has a maximum punishment of fourteen years in jail. Aggravated assault is a straight indictable offence, and is also classified as a primary designated offence for the purposes of the dangerous offender and long-term offender provisions of the Code.
Aggravated assault is a straight indictable offence. Accordingly the accused will be able to elect to have their trial by provincial or Superior Court, and could potentially have their matter heard by a jury. Tactically, defence counsel must be mindful that the Crown will likely be able to easily demonstrate the injury with medical professionals, documentation or photographs, and thus the impact of the imagery on the jury can be significant. Absent issues of perpetrator identification, or a realistic defence pursuant to section 34, technical arguments tend to fall flat when pit against difficult facts. Objective foresight requires the trier of fact to consider whether a reasonable person ought to have foreseen the injury caused, and in this respect it is often a foreign experience to most members of the community to have contemplated using a weapon or applying such for that so extensive an injury could have been caused. In this vein, defence counsel must be cognizant of the factual underpinnings of their particular case and consider whether the matter is best heard on a more technical basis by judge alone. It is also not uncommon on aggravated assault charges to be unable tactically or practically to put the accused on the stand. Absent injuries to the accused, self-defence becomes a difficult set of parameters to navigate when the visuals militate against your client.
From a factual perspective, disclosure on charges of aggravated assault will often come with extensive medical documentation detailing the injuries, as well as injury photos and testimony of the sequelae suffered due to the injury. These are difficult to get around from a cross-examination standpoint. It is often difficult, if not imposible, to argue that the victim injured themselves to that extent, and is attempting the frame your client. Thus, beyond the typically arising issues of identify, causation is rarely at issue. In such scenarios, the focus in an aggravated assault trial will often be on the intention of the accused, whether the injury was objectively foreseeable, and whether the self-defence provisions at section 34 of the Criminal Code apply. Aggravated assault charges are often paired with a charge of attempted murder, or alternatively with a charge of assault causing bodily harm. In cases where an attempted murder charge is laid, attacking the factual basis and mens rea component of that charge to reduce the charge to an aggravated assault is a common approach. In cases where the aim is to reduce a charge from an aggravated assault to an assault causing bodily harm, the focus would be on whether the injury caused was objectively forseeable - that is, whether a reasonable person ought to have foreseen that harm would ensue. That objective foreseeability standard is borrowed from the civil law, in which traditional English law framed objectivity as from the viewpoint of a hypothetically "reasonable man on the Clapham omnibus." In simple terms, the question is whether the accused foresaw, or ought to have foreseen that an injury would ensue.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Superficially, the wording of the section suggests that aggravated assault is an offence of specific intent. However, Courts have held that the mens rea required for aggravated assault is same the mens rea for assault simpliciter, combined with objective foresight of the risk of bodily harm. The specific harm need not have been objectively foreseeable, but rather harm generally.
The maximum penalty listed for a charge of aggravated assault is fourteen years of jail. However, it should be noted that aggravated assault is a crime that opens the door to the dangerous offender provisions. In cases where egregious levels of injury have ensued, it is not uncommon for the Crown to pursue a risk assessment upon conviction on a charge of aggravated assault, even for a first time offender. Indeed, section 753(1)(a)(iii) specifically contemplates offences that "...is of such a brutal nature as to compel the conclusion that the offenders behaviour in the future is unlikely to be inhibited by normal standards of behavioural restraint..."