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Washington Court Discusses First Aggressor Instruction in Assault Cases

Physical altercations often follow verbal disagreements, and in some cases, it is difficult to determine who is ultimately responsible for starting a fight. Thus, in many instances in which a person is charged with assault, self-defense is a viable defense. The State may try to thwart a self-defense argument, though, by asserting that the defendant was the first aggressor and should be found guilty. The appropriateness of a first aggressor instruction was the topic of a recent ruling issued by a Washington court, in a matter in which the defendant argued the instruction was improper. If you are accused of assault, it is prudent to speak to a capable Washington assault defense attorney to evaluate your options.

The Alleged Assault

It is reported that the defendant was waiting at a bus stop where another man was also waiting. The defendant walked back and forth very close to the other man, who asked the defendant to back up. The defendant then showed the man a knife and became verbally aggressive. The man then encountered the victim in the bathroom and advised him of the defendant’s behavior. When the victim left the bathroom, the defendant started yelling at him, then punched him in the head. The two men started fighting, and the defendant stabbed the victim numerous times. The defendant was charged with two counts of assault with deadly weapon enhancements. He was convicted of both charges, after which he appealed, arguing in part that the trial court erred in giving a first aggressor instruction to the jury.

The First Aggressor Instruction

A court reviews whether there was adequate evidence submitted to warrant a first aggressor instruction de novo. If the evidence produced at trial was sufficient to support the instruction, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party that requested the instruction. The court explained that a first aggressor instruction would not be deemed improper where there is credible evidence that would allow a jury to reasonably find that the defendant provoked the need for the victim to act in self-defense.

The act that provokes self-defense must be intentional, but it cannot be the actual assault unless the defendant engaged in the course of aggressive behavior rather than a single act of aggression. In the subject case, the defendant argued that the first aggressor instruction was improper because the initial punches he exchanged with the victim were inextricably entwined with the final assault. The court found, though, that the jury could have reasonably determined that the defendant engaged in a course of conduct that instigated the need for him to use force against the victim. Thus, the verdict was sustained.

Meet with a Trusted Washington Criminal Defense Attorney

People charged with assault may face significant penalties if they are convicted, but there are often numerous defenses available.  If you are charged with assault you should meet with a lawyer to discuss your rights. The trusted Washington criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White are adept at defending people charged with assault, and if we represent you, we will fight tirelessly on your behalf. You can contact us through our online form or at 253-203-1645 to set up a meeting.

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