Assault Charges in Western Australia
Assault charges in WA are dealt with under Part 5 of the Criminal Code 1913 (WA). The circumstances of an assault and the degree of harm inflicted will determine the charge that is laid and whether the matter is dealt with by a magistrate or in a higher court. This article deals with assault charges in WA.
Definition of assault
In Western Australia, an assault may occur by striking, touching, moving, or applying force of any kind to another person, either directly or indirectly, without the person’s consent, or with their consent if it is obtained by fraud, or attempting to do so.
It is not necessary for physical injury to have been caused for an assault to have occurred, as an assault charge may arise from an attempt or a threat where the offender has, or appears to have, the ability to carry out the threat.
In WA, an assault offence is aggravated where the accused is in a domestic relationship with the victim, where a child was present, where the conduct breaches the terms of a restraining order, where the victim is aged 60 or older, or where the offence is racially motivated.
Common assault charges generally arise where a person has sustained minor injuries, no injuries or has been threatened. The offence often arises when a person has been hit, pushed or shoved.
Common assault offences are dealt with by the Magistrates Court (or Children’s Court if the accused is under 18).
The maximum penalty for common assault is 18 months imprisonment and a fine of $18,000. However, where the offence occurs in circumstances of aggravation, the maximum penalty rises to three years imprisonment and a fine of $36,000.
Assault occasioning bodily harm
An assault occasioning bodily harm is an offence where the person has suffered any kind of bodily injury that interferes with their health or comfort. Such injuries may include minor abrasions and bruises, or injuries that are still relatively minor but require medical attention. This offence is dealt with in either the Magistrates Court or the District Court.
For cases heard in the District Court, the offence carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment; however, this may increase to seven years imprisonment if the offence occurs under circumstances of aggravation. For cases heard in the Magistrates Court, the maximum penalty is two years imprisonment and a fine of $24,000, or, if the offence occurred in circumstances of aggravation, three years imprisonment and a fine of $36,000.
Grievous bodily harm
The Criminal Code in Western Australia defines grievous bodily harm to include any bodily injury of a serious nature that is likely to endanger life or cause permanent injury or death. This charge may arise in circumstances where a person has suffered serious disfigurement, loss of a limb or broken bones.
Causing grievous bodily harm is a very serious offence, carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment, and is dealt with by the District Court. The penalty is raised to a maximum of 14 years imprisonment if the offence is committed whilst stealing a car, where the victim is working in a particular job role, such as an ambulance officer, health care worker, or court officer, or where the offence occurs under other circumstances of aggravation.
The Criminal Code makes it an offence to assault a public officer or police officer in their line of duty. The maximum penalty for serious assault in Western Australia is seven years; however, this penalty may be raised to 10 years imprisonment if the offender is armed with a weapon or is in the company of one or more persons. In addition, where the assault is committed against a police officer, a prison officer, a security officer, or a young offenders custodial officer, and the officer suffers bodily injury, the court must impose a sentence of at least six months imprisonment, or nine months imprisonment where the offender was armed or was in the company of one or more persons.
It is an offence under section 323 to indecently assault another person. An indecent assault does not necessarily need to be sexually motivated but must be inherently indecent.
This type of offence may be dealt with by either the Magistrates Court or the District Court. If the case is heard by the District Court, the maximum penalty is five years imprisonment. This maximum is raised to seven years imprisonment if the offender is armed with a weapon, is in the company of one or more persons, causes any person harm, threatens to kill the victim, or does anything which is likely to degrade or humiliate the victim.
If the case is heard in the Magistrates Court, the maximum penalty is two years imprisonment and a fine of $24,000.
Possible defences to assault charges in Western Australia
When faced with an assault charge in Western Australia, depending upon the circumstances, a legal defence such as provocation or self-defence may be available. An accused may rely on the defence of provocation (section 246) in circumstances where they were provoked into committing the assault and the provocation resulted in a loss of self-control. For this defence to succeed, the assault must not be disproportionate to the provocation and must not be likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm.
An accused may rely on self-defence if it is proven that they believed the assault was reasonably necessary to defend themselves or another person, that there were reasonable grounds for that belief, and that their act can be considered reasonable in the circumstances.
It is important to note that these are only brief overviews of these defences and that they will not be available for all types of assault charges in Western Australia or in all cases.
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