Assaults vary greatly in terms of situation and seriousness. Being charged with assault can be confusing, upsetting, and life-changing. Whether it is self-defense, defense of another person, a lapse in judgment, or something else that led to the assault charge, you will need strong legal representation to navigate your charges, defend your rights, and fight for the best possible outcome.
It is helpful to have a basic understanding of the way assault charges are characterized by the courts. In Washington State, assault charges are divided into four degrees or categories, depending on the circumstances of the offense. The degrees are separated by level of seriousness and corresponding penalties, with First Degree Assault being the most serious.
*First Degree Assault (Assault 1) – RCW 9A.36.011
-A person may be charged with First Degree Assault if he/she is accused of one of the following actions, with intent to inflict great bodily harm:
- Assaulting another with a firearm or any deadly weapon or by any force or means likely to produce great bodily harm or death
- Administering, exposing, or transmitting to or causing to be taken by another, poison, the human immunodeficiency virus as defined in chapter 70.24 RCW, or any other destructive or noxious substance
- Assaulting another and inflicting great bodily harm.
-Allegations of “great bodily harm” may refer to permanent and serious injury to another person
-This is a Class A Felony that carries a potential sentence of 93-123 months in prison and fines up to $50,000 for a first time offender and life in prison for a repeat offender.
*Second Degree Assault (Assault 2) –RCW 9A.36.021
-A person may be charged with Second Degree Assault if he/she is accused of one of the following actions, under circumstances not amounting to First Degree Assault:
- Intentionally assaulting another and thereby recklessly inflicting substantial bodily harm
- Causing substantial bodily harm to an unborn child by intentionally and unlawfully inflicting any injury upon the mother of such child
- Assaulting another with a deadly weapon
- Administering or causing to be taken by another, poison or any other destructive or noxious substance, with intent to inflict bodily harm
- Assaulting with intention to commit a felony
- Torturing by knowingly inflicting harm causing pain or agony
- Assaulting by strangulation or suffocation.
-Allegations of “substantial bodily harm” may refer to broken bones or other injuries requiring medical treatment. If there is an allegation of use of a deadly weapon or choking, an injury is not required.
-This is a Class B Felony that carries a potential sentence of 3-12 months in prison and fines up to $20,000 for a first time offender. For repeat offenders, if may result in a prison term of up to 10 years.
*Third Degree Assault (Assault 3) – RCW 9A.36.031
-A person may be charged with Third Degree Assault if he/she is accused of one of the following actions, under circumstances not amounting to First or Second Degree Assault:
- Committing assault in an effort to impede a lawful order of the court of in avoidance of being taken into custody
- Assaulting a driver of public transportation
- Assaulting a school bus driver
- With criminal negligence, causing bodily harm to another person with a weapon
- Assaulting a firefighter
- With criminal negligence, causing bodily harm accompanied by pain that extends for a period sufficient to cause considerable suffering
- Assaulting a police officer
- Assaulting a peace officer with a projectile sun gun
- Assaulting a nurse, physician, or health care provider
- Assaulting a judicial officer or court related employee
- Assaulting a person located in a courtroom, jury room, judge’s chamber, etc.
-Alleged assaults that may normally be considered Assault 4 can be punished as Assault 3 if the alleged assault occurs to a person performing specific occupations, as indicated above.
-This is a Class C Felony that carries a potential sentence of 1-3 months in prison and fines up to $10,000 for a first time offender. For repeat offenders, if may result in a prison term of up to 5 years.
*Fourth Degree Assault (Assault 4) – RCW 9A.36.041
-A person may be charged with Fourth Degree Assault if he/she assaults another person under circumstances not amounting to First, Second, or Third Degree Assault
-No injury needs to occur for Assault 4 charges to be filed. The requirement is that the contact be considered “offensive by an ordinary person”
-This is a Gross Misdemeanor charge with fines up to $5,000 and jail time ranging from 0-364 days. The court may also order anger management or drug treatment classes, and/or may resolve the case through probation.
*Domestic Violence Assault in the Fourth Degree (DV Assault 4)
-A DV specification on an Assault 4 charge is likely to come with enhanced penalties. Like Assault 4 (non-DV), DV Assault 4 is a Gross Misdemeanor and a conviction can result in up to 364 days of jail time and a $5,000 fine. In addition, a DV Assault 4 conviction may lead to a loss of rights to possess firearms. The court may also order a domestic violence treatment program and a no-contact order, keeping the accused away from their loved ones and even their home.
-DV Assault 4 charges do not require an injury to take place. DV Assault charges are filed when there are allegations of a minor injury or no injury at all. If police are called to a scene and there is any indicator that unwanted touching has occurred, an arrest will take place. State law requires the police to arrest the primary aggressor if they have probable cause to believe there was an assault within the last four hours.
-Please see our prior post about DV Assault 4 for additional information.
Assault is an extremely serious offense with life-changing consequences. It is important that you understand the magnitude of the potential repercussions and the necessity of involving experienced legal counsel at the earliest opportunity.