The crime of assault falls under the category of crimes against the individual. Assault offences can take a variety of forms. Depending on the aggravating factors and the level of harm caused, South Australia has different maximum penalties for assault offences.
Two laws regulate assault offences, the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 and the Summary Offences Act 1953.
Section 20 is violated when an accused does any of the following:
- Intentionally applies force to the victim
- Intentionally makes physical contact with the victim, knowing that the victim might reasonably object to the contact
- Threatens (by words or conduct) to apply force to the victim if there are reasonable grounds for the victim to believe that it possible for the accused to carry out the threat and intends to do so
- Does an act for the purpose of applying force to the victim
- Accosts or impedes another in a threatening manner
The crime described in section 20 is often known as “common assault.” It does not require the infliction of serious injury or of any injury. When serious injury is inflicted, a more serious crime (such as “causing harm” or “causing serious harm”) is likely to be charged.
Penalty for assault offences
The offence of assault can be punished by imprisonment of up to 2 years. However, unless the accused’s conduct is limited to making threats, the maximum sentence is increased to 3 years if any of the following aggravating circumstances (among others) existed:
- The accused used or displayed a weapon
- The victim was a law enforcement officer who was on duty
- The accused wanted the dissuade the victim from participating in legal proceedings
- The accused knew the victim was under the age of 12 or over the age of 60
- The victim was particularly vulnerable
- The victim was the accused’s spouse, domestic partner, or child
- Another person assisted the accused in committing the offence
The offence of assault can be punished by imprisonment of up to 3 years (or up to 4 years if any aggravating factor noted above is present) if the assault caused harm. The harm need not have been intended. If the assault caused harm that was intended, the offence of “causing harm” is more likely to be charged.
An accused has a defence to an assault charge if the accused’s conduct would be accepted as a normal part of social interaction (such as pushing someone while moving through a crowd or patting someone on the back). That defence is less likely to be successful if physical contact was accompanied by threatening language.
An accused also has a defence if he or she had a legal excuse or justification for the conduct. Acting in self-defence is an example of a legal excuse.
If you have been accused of assault, you should consult a lawyer to determine whether these or other defences can be raised in your case.