Why Domestic Violence Sentencing Is Treated More Seriously

October 13, 2020

Domestic assault convictions have serious consequences that can impact the rest of your life. Sentencing for domestic assault convictions is typically more severe than for other types of assaults, and there are good reasons for this. Domestic assaults involve attacks on people that have intimate relationships, and these crimes carry a unique emotional trauma. These assaults often happen behind closed doors and in the safety of their own homes. If you’ve been convicted of a domestic assault, it’s important to understand the sentencing consequences and take steps to rehabilitate yourself so that you can move on with your life. Sentencing in domestic assault cases often involves more than receiving a criminal record.

When most people think of domestic violence, they think of physical abuse. However, domestic violence encompasses a much broader range of behaviors than just physical abuse. It includes any behavior that is used by one partner in an intimate relationship to control or dominate the other partner. Also, such criminal offences as sexual assault, assault causing bodily harm, uttering threats and aggravated assault are all common domestic related charges.

Domestic violence and common assault cases share many similarities in injuries and actions. Ontario courts, however, do not treat them the same way, especially for first time offenders. Domestic assaults, though not technically classified as a separate offence, are treated as a serious aggravating factor and often have special assigned Crown Prosecutor that handle these cases separately from other criminal charges. Also, it is very common to have special court dates set aside just to handle domestic assault charges.

Ontario’s Domestic Violence Court (DVC) is a program designed to handle domestic assault related matters, simplifying the prosecution of cases. It recognizes that there a different set of needs exist within domestic matters that require a separate approach. 

The DVC may use an integrated system, allowing a single Judge to rule over matters where family law and criminal law overlap. As well, this system offers greater support to victims, increasing offender responsibility and providing early intervention.

More Severe Sentencing for Domestic Violence

Domestic assault may be treated as an aggravating factor in assault offences, which increases the severity of sentencing. It may also be tried as Intimate Partner Violence which, unlike domestic assault, is classified under the Criminal Code.

Intimate partner violence classifies can classify intimate relationships under a broad umbrella ranging from dating to marriage, including both current and past relationships, same sex partners and can even include siblings and other family members. Intimate partner violence may involve the use of multiple types of force, or threats of force, including:

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Sexual Assault
  • Criminal Harassment

Even before the criminal trial, the domestic nature of these criminal offences can come into effect. It adds extra consideration to bail hearings and the bail conditions imposed by judges. There exists a higher risk of being denied bail if there appears to be potential for psychological, physical or emotional distress to the victims should the accused be released back into the home. If granted bail, conditions may be stricter and are likely to include a non-communicate order. This could mean no phones or text messages to spouses or children.

If found guilty, high-risk offenders, especially those that already have a serious criminal record, are more severely impacted. They will have their case referred to the High-Risk Offender National Flagging System, and the Prosecution may submit a Dangerous/Long-term Offender Application. This process identifies the offender as a violent offender with a high risk of re-offending. This can result in restrictions on personal freedoms and act as an aggravating factor in future offences.

Additional counselling programs, such as the Partner Assault Program, are likely to be included if receiving probation, especially for those in the criminal justice system for the first time.

Sentencing Ranges for Domestic Assaults

When charged with a domestic related assault all the sentencing disposition are available. The sentencing Judge is allowed to impose an Absolute or Condition Discharge under section 730. They can structure a sentence that involves Fines and Probation or impose a Conditional Sentence Order (CSO). The maximum sentence if the Crown proceedings by Indictment is 5-years.

Why Domestic Assault is More Serious Than Assault

Domestic assault is viewed as so much more serious than assault because of the level of impact on the victim. Research has found that domestic violence has greater and longer-lasting effects than assault. These include anxiety, depression, emotional distress, eating and sleeping disorders, and even suicide. Depending on the circumstances, individual, and intervention these effects can manifest over weeks, months, or years.

As well, domestic violence disproportionately affects specific segments of the population. Women, children, and impoverished are victimized significantly more than the general public. More severe handling of offences is intended to protect marginalized individuals.

In a common assault, a single instance is more likely to be reported. With domestic violence, however, the offence is usually part of a longer pattern. It can go on for years behind closed doors, in the safety of the victim’s own family home. Victims often stay to keep the family together, because of financial considerations, or the fear that leaving or reporting the violence will make their situation worse.

Domestic Assault Sentencing Considerations

When determining the appropriate sentencing for a domestic assault the Judge must consider a number of factors. First they must determine the sentencing principles that best apply to the case at hand. With domestic matters the primary principles are Denunciation and Deterrence. No prior criminal history, no prior contacts with police and if this was a first offence would all be significant considerations.

Then the sentencing Judge must consider and weigh the aggravating and mitigation factors of the case.

Toronto Domestic Assault Lawyer

If you or a loved one are facing assault charges in Toronto, a criminal defence lawyer is your best option. William Jaksa is an experienced criminal lawyer who understands that you are more than your charges. He will help you understand your charges, your options to avoid a criminal record and jail time.

Contact William Jaksa today for a consultation.

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