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What is Assault, Sexual Assault, Criminal Negligence & Murder

Although all of assault, sexual assault and murder have common meanings, in law there are many technical distinctions within those three broad classes of of offences against people. Criminal negligence (causing death or bodily harm) is really an evolved civil rather than criminal liability standard that has been placed in the criminal realm for public policy reasons. 

1. Assault - On the extreme low end assault can simply be a single non-consensual touch (no hitting is required), or even just throwing something at someone which doesn't connect with him. Assaults range up to assault causing bodily harm and aggravated assault, when the results of the assault lead to minor or serious injury. Punishments become more severe as the type of assault offence escalates.

2. Sexual Assault - Sexual assault likewise has several subcategories including whether a weapon was used, confinement was involved, or serious physical injury resulted. Perhaps the most important legal nuance to understand about sexual assault is that no sexual intent in required; rather, the nature of the offence usually derives from the parts of a person's body assaulted.

3. Criminal Negligence - Criminal negligence is unusual in the criminal law because one can be convicted of it without any true criminal intent; it represents a departure in conduct so outside of acceptable norms, that had the tragic consequence of leading to another's death or serious injury, that the conduct is deemed criminal.

Thus the consequences of firing a rifle in the woods at an object thought to be a deer but unfortunately turning out to be a member of your hunting party could range from no liability, to civil liability only, to a minor firearms offence, or lead to a charge of criminal negligence causing death depending on the facts of the case, and the charging discretion of the police and Crown prosecutor. 

4. Murder - The offence of murder has three subdivisions: first degree involving premeditation, second degree without premeditation, and manslaughter which involves a lessened intent to kill, but actions which were likely to cause death. 

Why You Should be Concerned if You're Charged with Assault, Sexual Assault, Crim Neg or Murder

Acquiring a criminal record for a violent offence can stigmatize you for the rest of your life.

  • For assault, it's often difficult to predict in advance what kind of penalty will be imposed if convicted.
  • For sexual assault, you risk being placed on the Sexual Offenders Registry with limitations placed on your conduct even if you're out of jail.
  • For criminal negligence causing death you could wind up going to jail for something that really was just a mistake.
  • And for murder, you risk not only jail but no parole for 25 years (1st degree) or 10 years (2nd degree), plus being on parole for life!

How to Defend Against Charges of Assault, Sexual Assault, Crim Neg, and Murder: Top 4 Trial Strategies 

1. Accident

All criminal offences require prove of "intent" (technically known as mens rea) in order to lead to a conviction. Even criminal negligence causing death requires that you intended to commit the actions leading to the death or serious injury. While a court cannot look into your mind to see what you actually intended, it will infer intent from the surrounding circumstances. Thus pointing a gun at another person that you know is loaded and pulling the trigger would tend to support intent to kill, absent evidence to the contrary.

But accidents happen all the time. You might still be civilly liable for an accident, but that is a world away from criminal liability because you won't be facing the stigma and possible imprisonment that a criminal conviction entails. So any alleged offence against a person might be defeated at trial through argument of accident (other than for crim neg).

2. It wasn't me

Identification can be a live issue in many cases of assault, sexual assault or murder. Even an alleged victim who says he knows you well could be mistaken or lying about your role in an offence. And for other witness, they may have only had a momentary glance at a face they later identify as you. Studies have proven time and time again the frailty of human memory when it comes to identification of accused.

3. Consent

While not a defence to murder, knowledgable defence counsel may be able to create a reasonable doubt in assault or sexual assault cases by leading evidence of consent. Sometimes the consent might be explicit, and at other times it could be circumstances giving rise to that conclusion. Note that you can't consent to serious bodily harm. 

4. It never happened

The results of any of these offences (the injury or death of another person) may in fact have been caused by an accident, by suicide or other self-harm, or by lies. The criminal standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is a very heavy burden for the prosecution to discharge.