If you have been charged with assault you could find yourself facing a number of different penalties, from a fine up to long-term imprisonment, depending on the circumstances and the seriousness of the alleged offence. Whether you choose to plead guilty or not guilty, it’s important that you understand the charges against you. Here is a brief rundown of the different assault charges in NSW.
According to Section 61 of the Crimes Act, common assault is the act of assaulting any person, not occasioning actual bodily harm. Common assault can include a range of different behaviours like kicking, pushing, punching and spitting, but to be defined as common assault, there must be no actual physical harm caused, or only a very small amount.
Threatening to hurt another person can also be classified as common assault, even in cases where no physical contact is made. Common assault comes with a maximum prison sentence of two years, and is usually treated as a summary offence, although it can be dealt with as an indictable offence as well.
Assault occasioning actual bodily harm
If you are alleged to have assaulted someone and they sustained an injury as a result, you could be charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH). The injuries don’t have to be serious for a charge of ABH, scratches and bruises are enough. Injury can also include psychological trauma and mental health issues arising as a result of an assault.
To qualify as bodily harm, the injuries need to be more than trifling, but less severe than grievous bodily harm or wounding, which are separate offences. This can be quite a subjective definition, and in many cases where there is insufficient evidence, it may be possible to get charges reduced to common assault.
Generally the more severe the injuries, the more serious the penalty is likely to be when you are facing a charge of ABH. The maximum penalty for an ABH conviction is five years’ imprisonment if the matter is dealt with in the district court.
Assault or resist police
Section 546C of the Crimes Act states that any person who resists arrest or assaults police is committing an offence. Resisting arrest is usually dealt with as a summary offence in the local court, and comes with a maximum prison sentence of 12 months. In more severe cases, it may be dealt with as an indictable offence. This can happen if a weapon is used or serious threats are made.
Assaulting a police officer is generally considered a serious offence, and penalties can be harsher than if the person assaulted was a member of the general public. Although common assault generally receives a maximum prison sentence of two years, assault against a police officer may be dealt with as an indictable offence, which means a possible sentence of up to five years’ imprisonment.
Reckless grievous bodily harm and reckless wounding
Recklessly causing grievous bodily harm (GBH) and reckless wounding are serious offences. According to Section 35 of the Crimes Act, reckless grievous bodily harm is used when a person causes substantial bodily injury to someone while being reckless as to whether or not they cause it.
Grievous bodily harm is defined as a severe injury and includes any injury which is permanent or disfiguring. To qualify as GBH, an injury doesn’t have to have long-term effects, or be life threatening.
Reckless wounding is where a person wounds another person and is reckless as to whether the other person will be wounded. A wound is classified as an injury which breaks or cuts both the inner layer of skin (dermis) and the outer layer of skin (epidermis). For an injury to be defined as a wound, there doesn’t need to be a weapon used, a fist is sufficient, and the injury doesn’t have to be severe. A split lip can be counted as wounding.
The maximum penalty for recklessly causing grievous bodily harm is 10 years’ imprisonment. If this offence is committed in the company of other people, the maximum penalty increases to 14 years’ imprisonment. For reckless wounding, the maximum penalty is seven years’ imprisonment but this increases to 10 years’ imprisonment in company.
Intent to cause grievous bodily harm
Grievous bodily harm or wounding with intent is a very serious assault offence. For a conviction, the prosecution needs to prove that you caused grievous bodily harm or wounding with a deliberate intention to cause a serious injury.
To determine your state of mind at the time the offence was committed, the prosecution will look at a range of factors, including what happened in the lead up to the assault, any previous criminal history and whether or not a weapon was used.
Intent to cause grievous bodily harm or wounding comes with a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment, and it can only be dealt with in the district court. If you are facing a charge of this type, it’s essential that you seek the best possible legal advice and representation.
If you are facing assault charges of any nature, it’s important to take them seriously and seek experienced legal advice. A criminal conviction for assault will remain on your record indefinitely, and could prevent you travelling, emigrating and working in certain occupations.