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Assault

Definition

Section 20 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) outlines the offence of Assault.

Assault occurs if there is any intentional and unwanted physical force used against a victim [s 20(1)(a)]. For example, punching, hitting or kicking a person. The force used can be direct or indirect. For example, if because of an assault, a person drops a child they were carrying, that is also an assault on the child – even though the child was not directly assaulted.

Assault also occurs if there is any intentional and unwanted direct or indirect contact with another person, however slight the contact may be, if the person committing the assault knew that the victim might reasonably object to the contact [s 20(1)(b)]. For example, it could be throwing a newspaper at someone, knowing the person might object to that.

Assault can occur even without physical contact. If a threat is made to apply force and the victim reasonably believes that the person can carry out the threat or there is a real possibility that they will [s 20(1)(c)]. For example, if a person points a gun at someone or produces a knife.

An assault can also occur when a person accosts (approaches and confronts aggressively) or impedes (blocks the way of) another in a threatening manner [s 20(1)(e)].

What is not considered assault

A distinction is made for behaviour that falls within the limits of what would be accepted as normal social interaction or community interaction. Such behaviour does not constitute assault.

Examples of such conduct include acts such as patting the shoulder of another person to attract their attention, or pushing between others in order to get out of a crowded bus. Although these acts involve intentional touching of another without their consent, provided they are committed in a non-hostile and inoffensive manner, they do not constitute assault.

In addition, any conduct that is justified or excused by law is not an assault.

Maximum penalty

  • Basic offence: two years imprisonment
  • Aggravated offence: three years imprisonment
  • Aggravated offence by use of, or threatened use of, an offence weapon: four years imprisonment

[Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) s 20(3)]

For more information on circumstances of aggravation see 'What is an aggravated offence?'

Assault causing harm

A distinction is made between an assault where there are no significant injuries and an assault causing harm (for example injuries are sustained such as bruises or a broken nose). There are higher penalties for this type of offence:

Maximum penalty

  • Basic offence: three years imprisonment
  • Aggravated offence: four years imprisonment
  • Aggravated offence by use of, or threatened use of, an offence weapon: five years imprisonment

[Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) s 20(4)]

For more information on circumstances of aggravation see 'What is an aggravated offence?'

Other assaults

Causing harm

Another form of assault is the offence of causing harm [Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) s 24]. It is similar to assault causing harm but the penalties are more severe.

To be guilty of such an offence a person must cause harm to another either intending to cause injury or being reckless as to whether they do so.

Harm can be either physical or mental, and includes pain, disfigurement, unconsciousness and infection with a disease. Mental harm includes psychological harm but not emotional reactions such as distress, grief, fear or anger, unless they develop into psychological harm [Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) s 21].

Maximum penalty

Causing harm with intent to cause harm:

  • Basic offence – 10 years imprisonment.
  • Aggravated offence – 13 years imprisonment.

Recklessly Causing harm:

  • Basic offence – five years imprisonment.
  • Aggravated offence – seven years imprisonment.

Causing serious harm

A more serious charge is that of causing serious harm [Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) s 23]. Serious harm includes harm that endangers or is likely to endanger a person's life, results in serious and protracted impairment of a physical or mental function, or harm that results in serious disfigurement [see Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) s 21].

Maximum Penalty

Causing harm with intent to cause harm:

  • Basic offence – 20 years imprisonment.
  • Aggravated offence – 25 years imprisonment.

Recklessly Causing harm:

  • Basic offence – 15 years imprisonment.
  • Aggravated offence – 19 years imprisonment.

There is provision for the court to impose a penalty exceeding the prescribed maximum in cases where a victim suffers such serious harm that the Director of Public Prosecutions feels a higher sentence is warranted [s 23(2)].

How is a decision made on what charge to be laid?

Whether a person is charged with common assault or some more aggravated form of assault will be decided by the police. The crucial questions will be the degree of injury to the victim, whether the victim is a vulnerable person and whether or not a weapon was used.

Assault  :  Last Revised: Thu Jul 10th 2014
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