Causing Serious Harm Key Facts

Maximum Penalty

  • 25 years imprisonment

Possible Defences

  • you did not intend to cause harm;
  • you act was not voluntary;
  • the victim consented,
  • you were defending yourself or another person, or
  • you were defending your property.
  • duress
  • necessity/emergency
  • mental impairment

What Is The Charge Of Causing Serious Harm?

In South Australia, there are two offences of causing serious harm to a person.

The first offence is found in section 23 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935, which makes it an offence for a person to do something, or omit to do something, which causes serious harm to another person. To be guilty, you must have intended to cause serious harm or reckless about whether or not serious harm would occur.

The second offence is found in section 29(2) of the Criminal Law Consolidation 1935, which makes it an offence for a person, without lawful excuse, to do an act or make an omission, which they know is likely to cause serious harm to another and intends to do so or is reckless about whether or not serious harm will occur.

Serious harm includes:

  • harm that endangers a person’s life;
  • harm that results in serious impairment of physical or mental function; or
  • harm that results in serious disfigurement.

Whether a person is charged with causing serious harm under section 23 or section 29(2) will be decided by police. Each offence imposes a different penalty. Therefore, the decision will usually depend on the degree of injury to the victim, whether the victim was a vulnerable person and whether or not a weapon was used.

If you are charged with a offence of causing serious harm but a jury finds that you are not guilty of that offence, a jury may still find you guilty of a lesser offence of causing harm.

What Is The Penalty For Causing Serious Harm?

Penalty under Section 23

The maximum penalty for an offence of causing serious harm under section 23 depends on whether or not the offence is aggravated, and whether or not it was intentional.

  • For an intentional offence, the maximum penalty is 20 years imprisonment.
  • For an aggravated intentional offence, the maximum penalty is 25 years imprisonment.
  • For a reckless offence, the maximum penalty is 15 years imprisonment.
  • For an aggravated reckless offence, the maximum penalty is 19 years imprisonment.

Penalty under Section 29(2)

The maximum penalty for an offence against section 29 depends on whether or not the offences is aggravated.

  • For a basic offence the maximum penalty is 10 years imprisonment.
  • For an aggravated offence, the maximum penalty is 12 years imprisonment.

What Are The Possible Defences For Causing Serious Harm?

You may have a defence to a charge if:

  • you did not intend to cause harm;
  • you act was not voluntary;
  • the victim consented,
  • you were defending yourself or another person, or
  • you were defending your property.

Duress

It is a complete defence to a charge of causing serious harm if we can show that you were acting under duress. That is, you were acting as a result of violence, or some other threat against you. You will have a defence to this charge if we can demonstrate that you were coerced into the act by a third party, effectively rendering you an instrument of someone else’s criminal conduct.

Necessity/Emergency

The common law defence of necessity operates where the circumstances at hand (natural or human threats) require you to break the law in order to avoid even more dire consequences. There is, thus, some overlap with the defence of duress. It will need to be shown that you believed on reasonable grounds that you were placed in a situation of imminent peril. You may have a medical justification, or it may be the case that you were acting in the course of protecting yourself or someone else.

Essentially, the Court will need to weigh up the act you have committed, against the harm you would have experienced had you not acted in that manner. The Court will also need to be convinced that the act was proportionate to the potential harm.

Mental Impairment

The law recognises that, in some cases, people will not be capable of evaluating the nature and quality of their conduct or more categorically, they will not know what they are doing is wrong. If it can be shown that you were suffering from some sort of mental disease, disorder or disturbance, as distinguished from a mere lack of self-control or impulsiveness, then you may have a defence to this charge.

Mental impairments may be either permanent or non-permanent and may include disorders such as:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Hyperglycaemia
  • Psychomotor epilepsy
  • Cerebral arteriosclerosis

What the Police Must Prove

The police must prove that:

  • you did an act, or omitted to do something
  • the act or omission caused serious harm; and
  • you intended to cause serious harm or were reckless about the fact that you might cause serious harm.

What Court will hear the Matter

This is a major indictable charge. The proceedings will initially commence in the Magistrates Court of South Australia. If there is sufficient evidence against you, the matter will then be transferred to the District Court of South Australia.

Case Studies For Similar Offences

We have defended thousands of criminal cases over many decades and constantly achieve outstanding results for our clients. Please view our results by clicking the cases below:

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Case Study – Aggravated Assault

Case Study – Aggravated Assault

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