Compassionate Counsel Passionate Defense

group photo of attorneys and staff
Group photo of staff at Law Offices Of Smith & White PLLC
  1. Home
  2.  – Assault

A Strategic Defense Against Assault Charges

When you are accused of assaulting someone, self-defense is often the best defense. For most crimes, denial is the best strategy because it puts the burden on the prosecutor to prove each statutory element of the offense. But when you assert that you acted to prevent a threat to your own safety, that is a powerful affirmative defense that the prosecution must overcome.

Every case is unique. The criminal defense lawyers will examine the circumstances of your arrest and listen to your version of what happened. We will then mount the strongest defense, whether that is a variation of self-defense or some other tack that casts doubt on the accuser’s story and the government’s case. We have obtained good results for misdemeanor and felony assault charges, including domestic assault allegations, in Tacoma and surrounding counties.

Understanding Assault Charges

“But I never laid a finger on them!” Assault law in the state of Washington derived from the common law for assault and battery. Traditionally assault was putting someone in fear and battery was actually striking them. Now the two crimes have been merged into assault (WPIC 35.50). So assault can be harmful or offensive touching that causes lasting injury, but also can be as little as putting someone in fear of bodily harm through verbal threats or menacing gestures. There is also a separate charge of attempted battery (trying or intending to strike another but missing). The degree of the assault is usually connected to the degree of bodily harm or aggravating factors such as weapons.

Assault in the Fourth Degree

Assault 4 is the most common as we think of the usual punch, or push or even spitting. However, some punches, particularly strikes to the head, risk substantial bodily harm and can be charged by a prosecuting authority much more aggressively. Assault 4 is the most common basis for a domestic violence allegation. Even the sometimes socially acceptable grabbing, holding, restraining and slapping we see in our movies and television would be a domestic violence allegation of assault 4.

Assault In The Third Degree

Assault 3 usually has to do with the class of the victim, most commonly law enforcement. It should be noted that you do not even need to know that you are striking law enforcement. An undercover cop who gets hit still makes his assailant liable for an assault 3 charge. Firemen, bus drivers, other transit workers including ferry workers, judicial officers, pretty much anyone in a courthouse, doctors and nurses while performing their duties are also some of the other specially protected classes. Shooting a peace officer with a stun gun is assault 3. Assault 3 can also be based on criminal negligence, depending on the injury.

Assault In The Second Degree

Assault 2 is of special note because it is a strike offense (as in three strikes and you are out — a life sentence without possibility of parole). The most common basis for an assault 2 is strangulation (any time someone’s breathing is temporarily cut off. Obviously, if you finished strangling them, then that would be murder). Also, any broken bone will likely be charged as assault 2. We have had such cases with a broken finger or with a broken bone in the hand. While we haven’t had an assault 2 based on a broken toe, we are sure there are plenty of prosecutors out there who would charge it if they get the chance. Assault 2 is also using a deadly weapon (think club or knife as a firearm usually gets you assault 1). Poison or other noxious substances also can be charged as Assault 2. We had a case where a woman supposedly threw bleach on another woman and was charged with assault 2. Assault with the intent to commit a felony is assault 2.

Assault In The First Degree

That leaves us with our most serious of assaults, assault in the first degree, effectively attempted murder. Assault 1 is usually reserved for when someone shoots (non-fatally) or attempts to shoot another person. Aggressive prosecutors have charged merely brandishing a firearm as assault 1. This can be done because assault 1 is defined as assaulting another while having the intent of causing great bodily injury. If you were paying attention, you recall that assaulting another can arise just from placing them in fear. So pulling a firearm can place them in fear even if it is never pointed or fired. A gun can cause great bodily injury. The prosecutor leaves it to the jury to infer the intent to cause harm.

Penalties For An Assault Conviction

Assault 4 can be charged as a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and up to $5,000 in fines. Assault 3 is a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison and up to $20,000 fine. Assault 2 is a Class B felony that carries up to 10 years in prison plus fines up to $20,000. Assault 1 is a Class A felony which means up to life in prison upon conviction and up to $50,000 in fines. Even if you avoid prison, the collateral consequences can be severe. A criminal record – especially a felony record – can hamper employment, housing and other facets of life. A felony assault conviction will also mean that you lose your right to own or possess firearms, and it is very difficult in Washington to get that right restored.

Self-Defense And Other Defenses For Assault Charges

As we said earlier, whether you are accused of assault in the first, second, third or fourth degree, self-defense is typically your best strategy. When the defense presents any evidence of self-defense, the burden shifts to the prosecutor to disprove the self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. There are different shades of self-defense. One is provocation – the other party goaded you into assault or left you with assault and battery as the only way out of a dangerous situation. Another one is mutual combat – you both were throwing hands yet you got charged because you were the one who ended the fight.

Add to this the “castle doctrine” or the No Duty to Retreat legal standard, that exists in Washington, which allows you to defend your home or your family members or simply stand your ground in a public place in the face of a threat. This may very well be the strongest legal position that exists in Washington law.

While self-defense applies to all degrees of assault, the use of force must be reasonable. One cannot pull out a gun and fire because someone merely pushed you. Generally, reasonable force is defined as force equivalent to the force with which you were threatened. So if someone threatens you with a gun then you can pull out a gun. But if they push you then all you can do is push back. There is a little leeway here in interpretation. If someone pushes or punches you then you could likely restrain them. However, you should refrain from restraining them in a choke hold. Most of us saw the movie ConAir, where Nicolas Cage’s character was convicted because, even though all he did was fight back, his degree of training was determined to be an escalation of the degree of force. It may well come down to the jury deciding if the use of force was reasonable. All the more reason to get an excellent defense attorney.

It should be noted that self-defense can also include defense of others and/or property. You are allowed to defend your spouse, children and even complete strangers. You can defend pets, which are technically property under the statute, although pets are virtually people in many peoples’ lives these days. As noted above, a jury is often deciding these issues. Needless to say, the greater the emotional connection and vulnerability of the person you are defending (children and the elderly being examples) the more likely the jury is to find that your use of force was justified.

Procedurally, you are entitled to a self-defense (or defense of others/property) legal instruction to the jury if any evidence is presented of self-defense. This means the accused does not even need to testify; the decision to testify or not is reserved to the accused, to present this defense. If a witness or even the alleged victim puts forward information that the accused was legally using force, the accused can be spared cross-examination. Sometimes it is best to tell your side of the story through others.

Reimbursement For Bogus Or Spiteful Assault Allegations

Lastly, a legal defense can be quite costly, especially to the more serious classes of assault. Further, if the state is bringing the charge and the jury does find the defendant not guilty by virtue of self-defense, then the defendant can receive reimbursement for the cost of his or her legal defense. This is another reason why self-defense is the best defense when defending against assault allegations.

Reimbursement includes all the reasonable legal costs of your defense. You would think this potential might act as a deterrent for prosecutors in cases that are not clear-cut. However, our experience is that most government employees behave as if cost is never an issue. An unfortunate attitude since it is our tax dollars inevitably at stake here. That said, at least you might not be stuck with the cost of defending yourself from an assault and an assault allegation.

We Know How To Deal With Assault Charges

So, while assault is a serious allegation (and we did not even discuss the added consequences if your assault is designated as domestic violence), there are certainly steps that can be taken to defend against assault charges. Self-defense or defense of others and/or defense of property are certainly the best of these. However, there are other possible defenses or proof problems for the prosecution even if these defenses are not available to you.

Like self-defense being an optimal legal strategy, The Law Offices of Smith & White, PLLC, is a top rated defense firm available to you. Call 253-363-8662 or email right away for an expert consultation. Se habla español. We practice in the criminal courts of Pierce, Thurston, Kitsap and King counties.