What Is the Difference Between Assault and Aggravated Assault?

An assault is a general intent offence. Assault is considered an act prohibited by law that the accuser meant to do. An accusation of assault does not communicate the act’s result as intended.

Before we delve into what an assault is, we must understand the difference between assault and aggravated assault. We must also learn how assault is handled in the justice system. The best way to handle assault or aggravated assault is by contacting a criminal lawyer. The lawyer will help you navigate criminal law expertly.

Let’s learn about the difference between assault and aggravated assault:

What is assault?

Assault, as in a ‘simple assault’ is when a person applies force intentionally to another person without their consent.

Is a threat assault?

No, a verbal threat does not qualify as assault, nor would a visual threat such as a threat with a weapon. Direct or indirect contact must be made for an assault offence.

Can assault be an accident?

If you accidentally hit someone, such as bumping into someone, it is not classified as an assault because the act wasn’t intended. However, if the accused was trying to hit someone else and struck another, the intent is to have committed an act prohibited by law. Thereby, it’s considered assault.

Can a victim consent to an assault?

When a victim has consented to the assault, it cannot be considered an assault. However, this has its limits. By the law, a person cannot consent to assault with a weapon, assault causing bodily harm, or aggravated assault. If an assault falls into either of these three categories, consent is irrelevant.

What is assault with a weapon?

Assault involves using a weapon to deliver harm, i.e. a stick, knife, or gun. While a simple assault can constitute imprisonment up to five years, when it’s assault with a weapon, the maximum imprisonment jumps up to ten years.

What is aggravated assault?

Aggravated assault is a more serious form of assault. According to Canadian law, assault is considered ‘aggravated’ if there’s evidence that it wounded, maimed, disfigured, or endangered the complainant’s life. The punishment for aggravated assault is imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

Aggravated sexual assault

An aggravated sexual assault is very much in its category. It is a sexual assault involving violence to the degree included under the definition of ‘aggravated assault.’ The maximum penalty for aggravated sexual assault is life imprisonment.

Assault causing bodily harm

Assault causing bodily harm is slightly less serious than aggravated assault. Assault causing bodily harm depends upon the outcome of an assault, similar to aggravated assault. If it is hurt or injury that is not, by law, transient or trifling, this is bodily harm and is punishing with imprisonment of up to ten years.

Acting in self-defence

Self-defence is a common defence against aggravated assault charges. The law recognizes a person has the right to use reasonable force to protect themselves, their family, or property. However, it’s not as simple as putting forth a self-defence argument to have any type of assault charges dismissed or reduced.

The complainant sustained serious injuries in an aggravated assault, making any self-defence argument a difficult approach to take. If applicable, it should be discussed with your legal representation.


Circumstances can arise where it is an accident, the complainant was seriously injured, and the accused intended only to commit a simple assault without foreseeing the result of their actions.

Let’s suppose the accused pushes the complainant during an argument, and the complainant falls to the ground and hits their head. In that case, this does not necessarily mean the accused would be guilty of assault or aggravated assault. This is another defence strategy that may be applied.

How to defend against assault charges

Criminal defence lawyers can take several approaches to defend against assault and aggravated assault charges beyond what’s already been mentioned. It can be argued the contact was unintentional. It can be argued it was not necessarily self-defence but defending someone else.

The witness’ testimony can be argued as unreliable. In certain cases, an assault charge may be argued as having been concocted by the complainant for ulterior motives. The best approach to take in defending yourself against an assault charge lies in the hands of your lawyer.

How to fight off assault charges

You do not want a guilty verdict. Such a result can impact your access to children’s ability to travel outside of Canada and could limit your access to work and other personal freedoms. Whether it is assault or aggravated assault, contact a criminal defence lawyer.

They can offer guidance on how to move forward with a defence, hopefully achieving the best result and in consideration of your unique circumstances. A skilled and experienced lawyer will protect your rights.

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