Assault on a Child in Washington

In Washington, a person over the age of 18 commits the crime of assault of a child, a felony, by causing injury against a person under the age of 13.

For more information on other assault crimes, see Assault and Battery Laws in Washington, Aggravated Assault Laws in Washington, and Assault With a Deadly Weapon in Washington.

In Washington, assault crimes are classified by degree, with first degree assault being the most serious. The prosecutor is required by statute to charge the most serious crime possible under the circumstances. For example, when the facts of the case will support a first degree assault charge, the prosecutor must charge the defendant with first degree assault, and cannot instead file second or third degree charges. (Normally, prosecutors have the discretion to charge a lesser-included offense or a less serious offense, and are not required by law to charge the most serious offense possible given the facts.)

First Degree Assault

In Washington, a person commits the crime of first degree assault of a child by:

  • intentionally committing an assault (causing injury, attempting to cause injury, or intentionally causing fear by a physical act) by means likely to cause great bodily harm or death
  • exposing a child to poison, the HIV virus, or any other destructive or noxious substance with the intent to inflict great bodily harm
  • intentionally or recklessly inflicting great bodily harm, or
  • intentionally causing substantial bodily harm where the defendant has previously engaged in a pattern of assault or torture against the child.

People act intentionally when they have a purpose or design in mind, and 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.

Great bodily harm

Great bodily harm creates a grave risk of death, or causes permanent and serious disfigurement or impairment of any part of the body. Examples of great bodily harm include acid burns that cause permanent scarring and head trauma that results in bleeding in the brain.

Substantial bodily harm

Substantial bodily harm is substantial but temporary disfigurement or impairment of any part of the body, or fracture. Severe bruising is an example of substantial bodily harm.

Torture

Torture is using severe pain to coerce or punish a person.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § § 9A.04.110, 9A.08.010, 9A.36.011, 9A.36.120.)

For example, intentionally beating a child with fists such that the child sustained multiple broken bones and internal injuries would probably be considered first degree assault. Hitting a child so that the child suffered severe bruising would also be considered first degree assault if the defendant had previously abused or tortured the child.

Second Degree Assault

A defendant commits the crime of second degree assault on a child in Washington by:

  • administering poison or another destructive or noxious substance to a child with the intent to inflict injury
  • causing injury (more than fleeting pain or minor marks), where the defendant has previously abused the child
  • recklessly causing substantial bodily harm
  • knowingly inflicting torture
  • assaulting a child with the intent to commit another felony (such as a sex crime), or
  • strangling or suffocating a child.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § § 9A.04.110, 9A.08.010, 9A.36.021, 9A.36.130.)

Examples of second degree assault might include punishing a child with electric shock; or striking a child and causing a serious bruise or a black eye, if the defendant had a history of abusing the child.

Third Degree Assault

A person commits the crime of third degree assault of a child by, with criminal negligence, causing bodily harm with a weapon or object; or causing bodily harm accompanied by substantial suffering. Criminal negligence is the failure to be aware of substantial risks to others where a reasonable person would be aware of the risks. (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § § 9A.08.010, 9A.36.140.)

For example, failing to provide a child with food or water for several days would likely be considered third degree assault of a child.

Punishment

First degree assault of a child is punishable by up to life imprisonment and a fine of up to $50,000.

Second degree assault of a child is punishable by up to ten years in prison and fine of up to $25,000.

Assault of a child in the third degree is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § § 9A.36.120, 9A.36.130, 9A.36.140.)

Obtaining Legal Advice and Counsel

If you are charged with assault on a child, you should get in touch with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A conviction can have serious, life-altering consequences. An attorney will be able to help you understand the charges against you, make the best arguments on your behalf, and obtain the best outcome possible.

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