Washington Assault & Battery Laws

In Washington, a person commits the crime of simple assault (also called assault in the fourth degree), a misdemeanor, by hitting, touching, or attempting to injure another; or intentionally placing another in fear of injury by some physical act.

Assaults that cause serious or substantial bodily harm, as well as those against children under the age of 13 and certain protected employees, are felonies. For more information on these crimes, see Washington Aggravated Assault Laws and Assault of a Child in Washington. For more information on assault with a firearm or other weapon, see Assault With a Deadly Weapon in Washington.

Under Washington’s laws, assault crimes are divided up by degree, with fourth degree assault being the least serious. Fourth degree assault will be charged only when the circumstances of the offense do not constitute aggravated assault.

Simple Assault

In Washington, a person commits the crime of simple assault by:

  • intentionally touching or striking another person, in a harmful or offensive way
  • attempting to inflict injury on another, when the defendant has the apparent ability to do so, or
  • committing any act that intentionally places another person in apprehension of harm.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9A.36.041.)

For example, hitting another person with your hand might be considered simple assault. Attempting to hit another person is also assault, as is lunging at another person, if the lunge is intended to make the other person afraid of getting hurt. However, merely threatening another person does not constitute assault in Washington.

Reckless Endangerment

Washington’s laws also recognize a related crime called reckless endangerment. A person commits the crime of reckless endangerment by recklessly engaging in conduct that creates a risk of death or serious physical injury.

People act recklessly when they disregard the substantial risks to others created by their conduct. Recklessness is always a gross deviation from how a reasonable person in the same situation would act.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § § 9A.08.010, 9A.36.050.)

For example, driving a car in a very erratic manner with a child in the car might be considered reckless endangerment.

Domestic Violence

Assault and reckless endangerment between family and household members is domestic violence. 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.

Punishment

Fourth degree assault and reckless endangerment are both punishable by up to 364 days in jail 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.36.041, 9A.36.050, 10.99.020.)

Getting Legal Advice and Representation

A conviction for simple assault or reckless endangerment can result in jail time, a substantial fine, and a criminal record. If you are charged with misdemeanor assault or reckless endangerment, you should 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 based on the facts and the assigned judge and prosecutor, and help you prepare the strongest defense. With the assistance of an attorney, you may be able to get the charges reduced or dismissed, obtain a not guilty verdict, or receive a lighter sentence than the maximum allowed by law.

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