Assault charges in NSW
Assault refers to the use or threat of force against another person. While the term “force” might suggest serious harm, this isn’t always the case and in some situations assault charges could apply even when the victim suffers no injury.
The most frequent form we see as assault lawyers is common assault, but there are several other assault charges in NSW which most commonly fall into three categories:
- Assaults with a particular intention – e.g. assault with intent to commit murder.
- Assaults committed against a specific type of person – e.g. assault police.
- Assaults resulting in a particular harm – e.g. assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
These are often considered more serious forms of assault and may result in harsher penalties.
- Any act which causes another person to fear immediate personal violence (threat of force), and
- A striking, touching or application of force against another person (use of force).
In both cases the prosecution must also show that:
- The accused acted intentionally or recklessly,
- The victim did not consent to the conduct, and
- The conduct was without lawful excuse.
What conduct could be considered common assault?
Use of force
The victim does not have to suffer any harm or injury. Any application of force could be enough to warrant a charge of common assault and can include the slightest touch. Examples include punching, spitting, or poking someone with a stick.
Threat of force
Physical contact with the victim is not necessary. Raising your fist and threatening to punch someone is sufficient to be charged with assault.
Assault occasioning actual bodily harm
Assault occasioning actual bodily harm is another form of assault and a crime under section 59 of the Crimes Act. This offence is charged when:
- The accused intentionally or recklessly commits common assault, and
- That assault resulted in actual bodily harm to the victim.
Actual bodily harm includes any injury which interferes with the health or comfort of the victim including scratches and bruises. It may also include serious and prolonged psychological injury, which is mental harm more serious than temporary emotions or feelings.
Grievous bodily harm with intent
Causing grievous bodily harm with intent is another form of assault and a crime under section 33(1) of the Crimes Act. This offence is charged when:
- The accused caused grievous bodily harm to another, and
- They intended to cause grievous bodily harm.
Grievous bodily harm requires a serious or permanent injury, which will cause the victim ongoing problems. Grievous bodily harm can include:
- The destruction of the fetus of a pregnant woman.
- Any permanent or serious disfiguring.
- Any grievous bodily disease.
There is no specific offence of “aggravated assault” in NSW, however there are a number of aggravating circumstances which will be considered in sentencing. If an assault took place in circumstances of aggravation, the penalties will be more severe and imprisonment more likely. Aggravating factors include:
- The use of a weapon.
- Gratuitous cruelty.
- The presence of another person.
- Abuse of a position of trust or authority.
Penalties for assault
The maximum penalty for common assault is two years imprisonment. Other penalties could include a fine or a section 10 dismissal, and matters heard in the Local Court will often result in a Conditional Release Order or Community Corrections Order. You can learn about other possible penalties here.
Other types of assaults
The potential penalties for other types of assaults are more severe, and imprisonment is more likely. In determining the sentence, the court will consider the degree of violence and the extent of the harm.
|Offence||Maximum prison sentence|
|Assault occasioning actual bodily harm||5 years|
|Assault with intent to commit a serious indictable offence||5 years|
|Assault occasioning actual bodily harm in company||7 years|
|Assault police||5 years|
|Reckless infliction of grievous bodily harm||10 years|
|Reckless infliction of grievous bodily harm in company||14 years|
|Wounding or grievous bodily harm with intent||25 years|
Some of these offences may also be dealt with summarily in the Local Court where the maximum penalty is two years imprisonment.
It is essential to have a good assault lawyer who can assist you in presenting the strongest case possible, potentially avoiding a conviction or prison sentence.