In Washington, the crime of assault (offensively touching or injuring another, trying to touch or injure another, or placing another in fear of injury) is a felony when it causes or is intended to cause serious injury, or when the victim is a protected employee.
Most assaults that cause injury to children under the age of 13 are felonies. For more information on these crimes, see Assault on a Child in Washington.
For more information on assaults with firearms and other weapons, see Assault With a Deadly Weapon in Washington.
Other assaults are misdemeanors. For more information on these crimes, see Washington Assault and Battery Laws.
Under Washington’s laws, assault crimes are divided up by degree, with first degree assault being the most serious. The most serious charge should always be considered first. For example, third degree assault will only be charged when the circumstances of the offense do not constitute first or second degree assault.
First Degree Assault
In Washington, a person commits the crime of first degree assault with the intent to inflict great bodily harm by:
- inflicting great bodily harm on another
- assaulting another by means likely to cause great bodily harm or death, or
- exposing another person to poison, the HIV virus, or any other destructive or noxious substance.
Great bodily harm creates a grave risk of death, or causes permanent and serious disfigurement or impairment of any part of the body. An example of great bodily harm would be an acid burn that causes permanent scarring.
(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 9A.04.110, 9A.36.011.)
Kicking someone on the head numerous times in order to hurt the person would probably be considered first degree assault, as would intentionally exposing someone to strychnine, HIV, or the smallpox virus.
Second Degree Assault
A person can commit the crime of second degree assault in many different ways in Washington.
Recklessly causing substantial bodily harm. A defendant commits second degree assault by recklessly causing substantial bodily harm (substantial but temporary disfigurement or impairment of any part of the body, or a bone fracture).
People act recklessly when they disregard the substantial risk to others created by their behavior. Reckless behavior is always a great departure from how a reasonable person would act. For example, hitting someone so hard that the person falls to the ground, hits his head and becomes temporarily unconscious might be considered second degree assault.
Knowingly inflicting torture. A defendant also commits the crime of second degree assault by knowingly inflicting injury that amounts to torture (using severe pain to coerce or punish a person).
People act knowingly when they have an awareness of the facts or circumstances or when a reasonable person in that position would have an awareness of the facts or circumstances. For example, punishing your partner by burning your partner with an iron would likely be considered knowingly inflicting torture.
A defendant also commits the crime of second degree assault by:
- intentionally inflicting injury on a pregnant woman and causing substantial bodily harm to an unborn baby
- administering poison or another destructive or noxious substance with the intent to inflict bodily harm
- assaulting another with the intent to commit another felony (such as a robbery), or
- strangling or suffocating another.
(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 9A.04.110, 9A.08.010, 9A.36.021.)
Third Degree Assault
Under Washington’s laws, a person commits the crime of third degree assault by:
- assaulting anyone with the intent to prevent or resist a lawful arrest or detention or the carrying out of a court order
- assaulting a peace officer with a stun gun
- assaulting a protected employee engaged in the performance of official duties, or
- causing bodily harm and substantial pain and suffering by criminal negligence.
Criminal negligence is the failure to be aware of substantial risks to others and is always a substantial deviation from how a reasonable person would act in the same situation. For example, leaving a gun where a child could find it might be considered criminal negligence.
Protected employees include:
- transit operators, drivers, supervisors, mechanics, and security officers
- school bus drivers, supervisors, mechanics, and security officers
- firefighters and fire department employees
- law enforcement officers
- nurses, doctors, and health care providers, and
- judicial officers and court employees.
Custodial assault. In Washington, the crime of custodial assault is committed by assaulting a correctional officer, employee, volunteer, vendor, or any other service provider in a juvenile or adult correctional facility while the victim is performing official duties.
(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 9A.08.010, 9A.36.031, 9A.36.100.)
Assault between family and household members is domestic violence in Washington. Family and household members include spouses, former spouses, people who have children together, people related by blood or marriage, adults who live together or have lived together, and people who are or have been in a dating relationship.
(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 10.99.020.)
For more information, see Domestic Violence in Washington.
Assault in the first degree is punishable by up to life imprisonment and a fine of up to $50,000.
Second degree assault is punishable by up to ten years in prison and fine of up to $25,000. If the prosecutor alleges and proves that the defendant has a sexual motivation, second degree assault is a class A felony.
Assault in the third degree and custodial assault are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000.
In domestic violence cases, the court can impose special fees, order the defendant to surrender weapons, and issue a restraining order requiring the defendant to stay away from or not contact the victim.
(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 9A.20.021, 9A.36.011, 9A.36.021, 9A.36.031, 9A.36.100, 10.99.020.)
Getting Legal Advice and Representation
A conviction for aggravated assault can result in a lengthy prison term, as well as a substantial fine. If you are charged with a felony assault crime, you should immediately contact a Washington criminal defense attorney. An attorney can explain the legal process to you, tell you how your case is likely to fare in court depending on the facts and the judge and prosecutor who are assigned to your case, and make the best arguments on your behalf. With an attorney’s help, you may be able to get the charges reduced or dismissed, obtain a favorable verdict or plea bargain, or get a shorter sentence than the maximum allowed by law.