There are a total of four "degrees" of Assault in Washington State — First, Second, Third and Fourth. First Degree Assault is the most offensive assault in Washington. Conversely, Fourth Degree Assault is the least offensive assault in Washington. A number of defense claims, including self-defense, defense of other and/or property, consent, etc., can defeat an assault allegation notwithstanding its degree. Further, unlike most traditional defenses that must be proven by the defendant, self-defense, once raised, must be disproved by the prosecution. If the defense is successfully used against a State charge, the State will be required to pay back the accused for the cost of his/her defense.
First, Second and Third Degree Assaults are considered Felonies in Washington State — Class A, B and C Felonies, respectively; they are dealt with in our Washington State Superior Courts. Fourth Degree Assault is considered a Gross Misdemeanor and is dealt with in our Washington State District and Municipal Courts. All assaults in Washington State are considered to be either domestic violence related or non-domestic violence related; those assaults which are domestic violence related encompass greater potential consequences.
First Degree Assault typically includes intentionally causing great bodily harm to another person. First Degree Assault can include a standard range punishment of 93 to 123 months in prison; the range, however, can increase if a person has felony criminal history and/or there are weapons enhancements included. Second Degree Assault typically includes intentionally causing substantial bodily harm to another person, and/or assaulting someone with a deadly weapon regardless of whether any injury was caused to the person. Second Degree Assault can include a standard range of punishment of 3 to 9 months in prison; the range, however, can increase if a person has felony criminal history and/or there are weapons enhancements included. Third Degree Assault typically includes intentionally assaulting a police officer or certain other specifically protected public employees. Third Degree Assault can include a standard range of punishment of 1 to 3 months in prison; the range, however, can increase if a person has felony criminal history and/or there are weapons enhancements included. Fourth Degree Assault typically includes committing an assault against another person such as a punch, a slap or even a push; generally speaking, no injury or even pain has to be proven by the prosecuting authority. Fourth Degree Assault includes a jail sentence of 0 to 365 days.
In Washington State self-defense is deemed an affirmative defense against Assault allegations; essentially an affirmative defense admits, or otherwise recognizes, that the act took place, but was done under lawful pretense based on the totality of the circumstances. Under Washington State law, the use of force against another person is lawful: (1) when used by a person who reasonably believes that he is about to be injured, and (2) when the force is not more than is necessary. The person using the force may use such force that a reasonable person would use under the same circumstances. The determination of reasonableness is made from the perspective of the person using the force taking into consideration, however, all the facts and circumstances known to the person at the time of the incident. The reasonableness of the use of force is not judged from the perspective of hindsight, nor is reasonableness assessed by what a person should have done after thinking it through. Washington State law requires that the use of force be "necessary"; in other words, no reasonably effective alternative to the use of force appeared to exist. The law is based on the presumption that a person in Washington State has a right to stand his ground in a place he has a right to be, and that he has a right to defend himself by the use of lawful force; the law does not impose a duty to retreat. Interestingly, in Washington State, it is not the burden of a defendant to prove that she acted in self-defense. To the contrary, it is the prosecutor's burden to prove to the jury -beyond a reasonable doubt – that the force used was not done in self-defense.
As noted above, Washington State law requires that penalties be added if a person is convicted of committing a crime while armed with a deadly weapon. Typically this is called a "Weapons Enhancement". The Hard Time for Armed Crime law requires the following enhancements for crimes committed with a firearm: (1) 5 years for a Class A Felony, (2) 3 years for a Class B Felony, and (3) 18 months for a Class C Felony. The following deadly weapon enhancements are required if the defendant is armed with non-firearm deadly weapon such as a knife or club: (1) 2 years for a Class A Felony, (2) 1 year for a Class B Felony, and (3) 6 months for a Class C Felony.
There is great debate as to what constitutes a deadly weapon. Under Washington State law, a deadly weapon is deemed an instrument which has the capacity to inflict death, and from the manner, in which it is used, is likely to produce death. Amazingly, prosecutors go to great lengths to allege things as deadly weapons; for example, prosecutors have been known to allege items such as umbrellas, pieces of furniture, and even butter knives to be deadly weapons. Ultimately, it is up to the jury in each individual case to determine if an instrument constitutes a deadly weapon.
Washington has joined other states in enacting a "Three Strikes, You're Out" law, called "The Persistent Offender Act", or POA. Under this statute, if you are convicted of three strikes, you face mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole. Even a second degree assault can count as one strike, putting you on the road to a mandatory life in prison. Don't let it happen to you in the first place; take every allegation of assault seriously.
Assault allegations are extremely serious in Washington State. Anyone charged with assault in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Tacoma assault attorney. The Tacoma criminal defense attorneys that make up the criminal defense team of the Law Offices of Smith and White, PLLC are highly qualified and reputable Tacoma assault lawyers that are dedicated to providing top notch, aggressive representation for those arrested for assault in Western Washington and all across the greater Puget Sound region. The office creates success by working with law enforcement and the prosecuting attorney's office to ensure that all facts and circumstances related to the criminal allegations are considered in creating the fairest, most equitable and just resolution possible in light of all the surrounding circumstances.