If you’re facing domestic assault charges, there’s no doubt that you’re in a serious situation.

There is little sympathy from anyone in the justice system for somebody accused of violence against a family or household member in Ontario.

However, charges get dropped, people get wrongly accused and criminal defence lawyers are often successful in winning cases…so all is not lost.

Going to jail is by no means a certainty if you are accused of domestic violence — and if you’re a first-time offender, you’re far more likely to receive some leniency than repeat offenders, especially if you have legal representation.

Let’s look at some of the main questions asked by those involved in domestic assault cases in Ontario.

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Will I go to jail for domestic assault if I’m a first-time offender?

If you’re convicted of domestic assault in Ottawa, you will face harsher penalties than with a simple assault charge. When family or household members are involved, it is considered an “aggravating” factor during sentencing.

Another factor that increases the likelihood of jail time is that the prosecution rarely drops domestic violence charges — even if the victim wants to withdraw charges.

However, a conviction for domestic assault carries no minimum term of imprisonment in Canada, so there is some flexibility afforded to those who are found guilty of the offence.

Each domestic assault case is different but the following penalties can be applied by the judge in such cases:

  • Up to two years less a day of jail for a summary conviction (for minor offences)
  • Up to five years in jail for an indictment (for the most serious offences)
  • Up to 10 years in jail for sexual assault or assault causing bodily harm
  • Up to 14 years in jail for aggravated assault or if a child under 16 years old was sexually assaulted

Aggravating factors that make jail time far more likely include bodily injury to a person or the use of a weapon. An assault on a vulnerable victim (e.g., a child or aged victim) is also considered more serious.

Jail time remains a real possibility for any charge of domestic assault and it’s important to speak to a criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible if you’re in this situation.

Fortunately, judges do take onto account past behaviour when sentencing so if you’re a first-time offender, there may be alternative options to jail available.

What are the main alternatives to jail for a first-time domestic assault offender?

Alternative options to jail will vary according to the circumstances of the crime you’re convicted of.

In relatively minor domestic assault cases, a skilled criminal defence lawyer may not only be able to prevent jail time but also prevent a criminal record. Instead, even if you’re guilty, the judge may decide to impose one of the following sentences:

An absolute discharge means that you won’t have a criminal record for domestic assault. A conditional discharge means that you won’t have a criminal record if you complete a prescribed period of probation.

A summary prosecution will take place in the Ontario Court of Justice and carries lesser penalties than an indictment — but can still lead to jail time. If the judge deems that the crime does not warrant jail time, you may be ordered to pay a fine of up to $5,000 or restitution for property damage or medical bills incurred during the incident.

This is where a judge convicts you of the offence but places you on probation for a while, during which time you’re released but expected to follow the conditions set out in your probation order. If you violate these terms, you could still end up in jail.

If the court imposes a sentence of two years of imprisonment or less, you may be placed under house arrest instead of going to jail — but your lawyer will need to demonstrate to the judge that you pose no danger to other household members. You’ll likely have to abide by a strict series of conditions with a conditional sentence.

Three common domestic violence charge questions

Sometimes, domestic assault charges are a big surprise to the accused. One moment they were in a minor altercation at home and the next they were being arrested.

In Ontario, the police have a duty to charge an individual accused of domestic violence, regardless of the wishes of the complainant.

This can be especially harsh in cases involving minor assault charges like pushing and shoving incidents, which don’t even need to be corroborated for the police to lay charges.

A domestic violence case may run to several court appearances but it is in everyone’s interests for the matter to be resolved as quickly as possible. If it is settled before trial, this speeds the process up and it may be concluded in 1-4 months.

You can expect more serious cases to last up to 18 months or more.

No, there is nothing to say that you need a lawyer to defend you even if your case proceeds to trial.

The vast majority of those accused of domestic assault do seek the services of a criminal defence lawyer, however. That’s because domestic violence charges are criminal charges that carry severe consequences for anyone convicted.

The best lawyers speed up the court process, relieve stress, provide support and, most importantly, greatly reduce the odds of an outcome that includes a permanent criminal record, a jail sentence or other unwanted consequences.

To give yourself the best possible chance of escaping these consequences, speak to a domestic assault lawyer from Affordable Defence in Ottawa during a free consultation.