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Articles Posted in Self Defense

https://www.smithandwhite.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/jamesjlwhite_Art_deco_style._subtle_red_white_and_blue_colors.__58df2932-3af3-47e6-a80c-a9777139fc2d-300x300.pngIn Tacoma, Washington assault cases, defendants do not have to offer a defense or otherwise establish that they did not commit the charged offense. In many instances, though, a defendant will argue that the actions out of which their charges arose were taken in self-defense and, therefore, were lawful. If the State disproves a defendant’s self-defense argument beyond a reasonable doubt, however, the defendant may be found guilty. Recently, in the Court of Appeals in Tacoma, Washington, the court discussed what evidence is needed to demonstrate that the use of force was lawful in a matter in which it affirmed a juvenile’s adjudication of guilt for assault. If you are charged with an assault offense, it is advisable to meet with a Tacoma assault crime defense attorney to evaluate your options.

History of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant and the victim were both high school students. The defendant was approximately 200 pounds lighter than the victim, but both appeared to be in reasonably fit condition. They had a verbal altercation, during which the defendant called the victim a gay slur, and the victim stated he was gay.

Reportedly, they had a second encounter later in the day that escalated into a physical altercation. The victim approached the defendant and slapped him on the arm, after which the two fell to the ground. The victim was striking the defendant when the defendant pulled a knife out of his pocket and stabbed the victim repeatedly. The defendant was charged with assault in the first degree. During the trial, he argued he acted in self-defense. The judge rejected the defense and found him guilty of assault in the second degree, and he appealed. Continue reading

It is common for a person charged with assault to argue that he or she was acting in self-defense. A defendant that successfully establishes that he or she merely committed the alleged acts to protect his or her self may be able to avoid a conviction. Self-defense only excuses a response to an illegal use of force, however. Thus, in many cases, the State will argue that the defendant initially instigated an altercation, and created the need to act in self-defense. In a recent case, the Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 3, explained when a jury instruction that the defendant was the initial aggressor of an argument is appropriate in assault cases. If you live in Washington and are charged with an assault offense, it is prudent to meet with a skillful Washington assault defense attorney to discuss your potential defenses.

Facts and Procedure of the Case

Allegedly, the defendant and his victim live in the same building and had prior confrontations. Then, in December 2017, the defendant approached the victim and began punching him. The defendant then strangled the victim, reportedly out of fear that the victim would use the knife he regularly carried to stab him. Several witnesses observed the incident. When the police arrived, the defendant admitted he started the altercation, and that he strangled the victim. He was charged with second-degree assault by strangulation. Following a trial, a jury convicted the defendant. He then appealed on several grounds, including the argument that the trial court committed an error in providing a first aggressor instruction to the jury.

First Aggressor Instruction

Under Washington law, a defendant charged with assault can argue that his or her acts were taken in self-defense. The self-defense argument is only available, however, in cases in which the defendant’s actions were taken in response to the unlawful use of force. In other words, a person who instigates a confrontation, thereby provoking the person to act in self-defense, is not responding to unlawful force and will not be found to be acting in self-defense. Thus, a first aggressor instruction is appropriate in cases in which there is credible evidence that would allow a jury to reasonably conclude the defendant provoked the need for the victim to act. The instruction is also appropriate in cases in which there is a dispute as to who began an altercation.

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In certain cases, even if criminal defendants committed the alleged acts out of which their charges arose, they may be able to argue an affirmative defense to avoid a conviction. For example, defendants charged with assault may be able to persuade the judge or jury that their actions were undertaken in self-defense and therefore were justified. Recently, a Washington appellate court discussed what jury instructions are appropriate regarding self-defense in a case in which the defendant argued he was unjustly convicted of assault. If you are a resident of Washington charged with assault, it is prudent to consult a skillful Washington assault defense attorney regarding your available defenses.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant’s wife became involved in a dispute with their next-door neighbor over landscaping fabric that was encroaching on the neighbor’s yard through a wooden fence. The argument continued for several days, and the defendant and his wife began to take down the fence. At that point, the defendant alleges that the neighbor came outside and swore at the defendant while carrying a pickaxe. The police came to the defendant’s home in an attempt to diffuse the situation. The defendant continued to take down the fence with his wife, who suddenly stated that the neighbor was approaching them with a gun. In response, the defendant pointed a pistol at the neighbor. The defendant was subsequently charged with and convicted of second-degree assault.  He subsequently appealed, arguing the court provided inadequate instructions to the jury regarding self-defense.

Self-Defense Under Washington Law

In part, the defendant argued that self-defense is an element of second-degree assault, and therefore, it should have been including in the jury instruction regarding what was needed to convict the defendant. The court rejected this argument, finding that advising the jury regarding self-defense in a separate instruction was appropriate. The court conceded that the Washington Supreme Court previously held that the State must disprove self-defense to prove that a defendant that is charged with second-degree assault committed unlawful acts. The court stated, however, that the State’s burden could be met even if a separate instruction was provided to the jury regarding self-defense. Continue reading

While ending someone’s life is typically a brutal and traumatizing event, it is not always viewed as murder by the law. For example, in many cases, self-defense is a valid defense to a murder charge. In cases where one person accidentally kills another person, it may not be murder, but it could result in a conviction for other charges. It is essential for anyone facing murder charges to retain an attorney who will thoroughly explain to the jury any defense for the defendant’s actions.

The Supreme Court of Washington recently analyzed whether the court erred in failing to instruct the jury on excusable homicide, in Washington v. Henderson, a case where the defendant argued he killed the victim in self-defense. If you are charged with a crime, you should meet with a skilled Washington criminal defense attorney to discuss your available defenses. 

Factual Background

Allegedly, the defendant and his victim were involved in a verbal altercation at a gas station. At one point, the victim lunged at the defendant and appeared to reach for his pocket. The defendant then drew a gun from his pocket and shot and killed the victim. He was subsequently charged with felony murder based on second-degree assault with a deadly weapon. During the trial, the defendant argued he was acting in self-defense and accidentally killed the victim. The court instructed the jury in justifiable homicide but not in excusable homicide. The jury convicted the defendant after which he appealed, arguing the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury in excusable homicide. The court of appeals reversed, after which the State petitioned the Supreme Court of Washington for review.

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Under Washington law, self-defense is a valid defense to an assault charge. If a jury is not properly instructed on the law regarding self-defense, however, a defendant may be improperly convicted. In Washington v. Backemeyer, the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington overturned the Defendant’s conviction for assault and granted him a new trial after finding the defense counsel performed deficiently in failing to ensure the jury received a proper self-defense instruction, which was prejudicial to the Defendant. If you face assault charges, it is essential to your case to retain an attorney who is well-versed in the defenses to the crime you are charged with and can adequately convey the defenses to the jury. You should consult a seasoned Washington assault defense attorney to discuss your options.

Facts of the Case

Allegedly, in Backemeyer, the Defendant was in a bar when he was asked to leave by an individual who identified himself as a bouncer. The Defendant told the bouncer to leave him alone and began pushing the bouncer, after which the bouncer pushed the Defendant to the floor and got on top of him. The Defendant, who was significantly smaller than the bouncer, pulled out a knife and began cutting the bouncer. The Defendant was subsequently charged with first-degree assault with a deadly weapon. During the trial, the Defendant testified he was afraid of being seriously injured and was acting in self-defense, and that he did not know the bouncer was a bar employee.


In criminal law, there are certain issues in which the defendant’s state of mind or knowledge are vitally important matters to determining his level of guilt. In other areas, the defendant’s mental state is completely irrelevant. This distinction is what unraveled one Navy seaman’s defense against a charge of assault on a police officer. The seaman sought a self-defense jury instruction, based upon his alleged lack of knowledge that the man detaining him was a police officer. The Washington Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling because, in the seaman’s case, it didn’t matter what he did or didn’t know about the officer. It only mattered that the officer’s detainment of him was lawful, which the seaman did not contest.

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A famous song from the 1960s, borrowing from Jewish and Christian scriptures, states that there is a “time to every purpose under heaven.” Encounters with police can be like that. Which is to say, when interacting with the police, there is a time to be very forthcoming, and there is a time to refrain from speaking. Suffice it to say, whatever the specifics of your situation may be, the first thing you say when you encounter a law enforcement officer should probably not be, “I did it.” One man from southwestern Washington made that mistake in his case, a case in which the Washington Court of Appeals upheld his conviction.

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A spilled beer at a bar escalated to a physical conflict and ultimately led to a customer’s stabbing of a guard. In the customer’s assault trial, he argued unsuccessfully for a jury instruction about self-defense. The Washington Court of Appeals upheld the decision not to issue the instruction. The law requires the defendant to have evidence of three things in order to warrant the instruction, and this defendant had none of the three.

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If you or a friend or relative has been accused of a crime, there are many things about which to concern yourself in the criminal trial. One of these is ensuring that your case includes all of the defenses allowed by the law, possibly including self-defense. You are entitled to request that your jury receive an instruction on self-defense if there is enough evidence in your case to create a reasonable possibility that your actions were in self-defense. As a recent Washington Court of Appeals decision makes clear, it doesn’t matter if the evidence that potentially raises the issue of self-defense comes from your case or the prosecution’s case. If the evidence is validly before the court, and it raises the possibility that you acted in self-defense, the jury should be instructed on self-defense.

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A recent case involving an alcohol-fueled quarrel that devolved into a knife attack, while yielding an outcome unfavorable to the woman accused of assault, offers some helpful information on the law of self-defense in assault cases. The Washington Court of Appeals decision, which upheld the set of jury instructions the trial judge gave before the jury found the woman guilty, demonstrates what a claim of self-defense may and may not mean in a criminal trial in relation to the instructions the judge gives the jury. In this case, the instructions were not worthy of reversal because the instructions the judge gave were justified by the evidence, and they did nothing to impede the accused woman’s ability to present her defense fully.

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