Assault is easily the most common crime committed against the person in South Australia. To deal with the numerous forms that crimes of assault may take, South Australia has a number of assault offences with varying degrees of punishment depending on the seriousness of the assault. The types of offences, and penalties, are found in the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) and the Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA). The elements of the offence that must be proved by the Crown may also differ. These offences include:
- assaulting a police officer (section 6 of the Summary Offences Act);
- basic assault (section 20 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act);
- aggravated assault (section 20 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act);
- causing physical or mental harm (Division 7A of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act); and
- assaults with intent (section 270B of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act).
Basic assault is committed in South Australia if you (without the consent of another person, being the victim) apply force to that person, make physical contact with that person knowing they might not want you to, threaten (with words or by conduct) to apply such force, do something which is intended to apply such force, or if you accost or impede that person in a threatening way. Such actions can be both direct and indirect. For example, if you have assaulted a person who is holding a child and that child is injured because they are dropped, that child is also a victim of the assault. However, generally accepted social behaviour (e.g. patting a person’s shoulder to get their attention), or behaviour that is allowed by law, cannot be assault. Threatening another person will also not be an assault unless it was reasonable for that person to think you could actually carry out the assault (i.e. threats made in jest to do impossible things are not assault). The maximum penalty for basic assault is 2 years imprisonment, but if you cause actual harm to the person, this is extended to 3 years.
Aggravated assault occurs if you commit a basic assault, but you do so in aggravating circumstances. This can include threatening to use a weapon, causing severe pain in the victim deliberately and systematically, the victim was under 12 or over 60 years old, or if you had a certain relationship with the victim (for example, if the victim is a former spouse, or your child). The maximum penalty for aggravated assault is 3 years imprisonment, unless you commit the assault with the use of a weapon, in which case it is 4 years. These penalties are extended to 4 and 5 years respectively if you cause actual harm to the person.
Crimes of basic assault and aggravated assault are considered to be “minor indictable offences” and are dealt with in a Magistrates Court by a Magistrate, unless you elect to have the offence heard by the District Court (i.e. trial by jury). Crimes of assault where you intended to murder a person or commit treason will be heard by the Supreme Court if you elect not to have them dealt with by a Magistrates Court.
Assaulting a police officer in the course of their duty is a crime punishable by $10,000 or 2 years imprisonment. You may also be ordered to pay an amount personally to the police officer if you caused injury to the police officer. This kind of assault is a ‘summary offence’, meaning it is dealt with by a Magistrate in a Magistrates Court.
South Australia has a separate offence for causing physical or mental harm to another person without their consent (which may be given, for example, for religious reasons). It is similar to the crimes of basic assault and aggravated assault described above, but the penalties are much more severe. Physical harm can include unconsciousness, pain or disfigurement, and mental harm includes psychological harm (but not causing general emotions such as distress or anger). A basic offence of causing harm has a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment if you intended to cause harm, or 5 years imprisonment if you were reckless in doing so. Aggravated offences (an offence may be aggravated for the same reasons as described under the heading “Aggravated assault”) have maximum penalties of 13 years and 7 years respectively. Offences which cause “serious harm” (e.g. endangerment to life or serious disfigurement) have higher maximum penalties. For basic offences, the maximum penalty is 20 years imprisonment or 15 years imprisonment (if reckless). For aggravated offences, the maximum penalty is 25 years imprisonment or 19 years imprisonment respectively.
There is a separate offence in South Australia for committing an assault in circumstances where you intend to commit an offence against the person, an offence of theft or a theft-related offence, or an offence of interfering with, damaging or destroying property. It only applies to the extent that another offence does not already deal with the same scenario (i.e. it operates almost like a catch all provision). The maximum penalty is at least 7 years imprisonment (depending on the circumstances), meaning such offences cannot be heard in a Magistrates Court.
Watch the video below to know more about the Assault Charges in Australia: