The crime of “assault” is perhaps one of the most variable crimes in the Washington penal code. The law has four levels of “assault” (Assault in the First Degree – Assault in the Fourth Degree), depending on the specific circumstances and allegations in each case. Differences in the intention of defendant, the type of force used, the injury caused and the type of “victim” will determine whether a person is charged with an Assault in the Fourth Degree (a gross misdemeanor and the lowest level of assault) or if they will be charged with an Assault in the First Degree and face a lengthy prison sentence if convicted.
If you’ve been arrested for or charged with the crime of assault it is vital that you meet with experienced legal counsel at the earliest opportunity. You likely will have a lot of questions and time is of the essence in identifying and developing your defense. With over 50 years of combined experience in representing clients in criminal defense cases throughout Washington, the legal team at Spencer & Sundstrom has the skills to get you the best legal outcome possible.
“But, I didn’t start it! Can I claim Self-Defense?”
YES! While it is one of the more variable crimes in the penal code, the law in assault cases also comes with the “affirmative defense” of Lawful Use of Force. (See RCW 9A.16.020) The claim of “Self-Defense” in Washington falls under the statutory umbrella of a “Lawful Use of Force.” A Lawful Use of Force defense is very fact specific. Essentially, the judge or jury must find that:
As an “affirmative defense” under Washington law, the prosecution is required to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defense is not available to the client given the facts of the particular case. Further, attorney fees and costs may be recovered from the State after acquittals based on the affirmative defense of Lawful Use of Force. RCW 9A.16.110.
Get an experienced legal team on your side
If you have been accused of assault, you need to put forth the best legal defense strategies to win your case. Contact us at Spencer & Sundstrom for a consultation to discuss the specifics of your case. We will thoroughly review your case and aggressively work to pursue the best results possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! At its essence, RCW 9A.16.020 provides that a person may lawfully use physical force against another person in Washington in any one of three situations – defending yourself, defending a third person, or defending your property.
No! Perhaps a holdover from the days of the “Wild, Wild West” and markedly different from jurisdictions found in the eastern part of the country, Washington does not impose a duty on a person to try to retreat or escape before acting to defend himself, his property or a third party.
Typically, excessive force is a factual determination that will defeat a Lawful Use of Force defense. Where a party has either employed a grossly disproportionate violent means to defend himself or his property (e.g., shooting a man in the back while he runs away with your phone) or where a party continues his otherwise proportionate force beyond that point in which the assault has been stopped (e.g., kicking a person when that person is already down and no longer fighting), they may lose the right to claim “Lawful Use of Force.”
Many older people will recall the phrase of “assault and battery” from old movies and t.v. dramas and that phrase is still used in many other jurisdictions today. Essentially, the term “battery” refers to the actual physical contact with the body of another person which cause pain or injury, and the term “assault” speaks to the threatening behavior leading up to the “battery” (Think: Threatening words, closed fist, display of weapon or instrument). Washington State simply collapsed the two terms together and into the charge of “assault;” there is no “battery” in Washington. As such, merely behaving in a manner which places another person in a reasonable fear that they are about to be harmfully or offensively touched is that all that is required to be charged with the crime of assault – no actual contact is required!