Washington Court Discusses Reasonable Alternatives Argument in Assault Cases

If a defendant is charged with assault in Washington, depending on the facts of the case, he or she may be able to argue that the allegedly offensive acts were taken in self-defense. In response to a defendant’s argument that he or she was acting in self-defense, the State may attempt to argue that other reasonable alternatives existed that would have enabled the defendant to avoid engaging in the use of force. Recently the Court of Appeals of Washington analyzed whether a reasonable alternatives argument is appropriate, in a case in which the defendant was granted a new trial due to prosecutorial misconduct. If you reside in Washington and are charged with assault it is prudent to meet with a knowledgeable Washington assault defense attorney to discuss what defenses may be available in your case.

Facts Regarding the Alleged Assault

It is reported that the defendant and his girlfriend were walking their dog at night on a trail near the defendant’s house. The defendant had a permit to carry a handgun and was carrying the gun in a holster around his waist during the walk, due to his girlfriend’s concerns for their safety. During the walk, the defendant and his girlfriend encountered two men who appeared to be fighting. One of the men was swinging a detached gutter at the other. Thus, the defendant approached the men to ask if everything was okay.

Allegedly, the men, who were intoxicated, stated they were fine. The defendant began walking back towards his home, but one of the men allegedly followed the defendant and began interrogating him, stating he touched his property. The defendant continued to walk towards his home, but the man became more aggressive and angrier. Ultimately, the defendant took his gun out of the holster and fired it three times at the ground near the man’s feet. The defendant was charged with assault in the first degree while armed with a firearm. During the trial, he argued that he was acting in self-defense, but the prosecution argued he failed to engage in reasonable alternatives. The defendant was convicted of assault in the first degree while armed with a firearm, after which he appealed.

Reasonable Alternatives Argument

One of the issues presented on appeal was whether the prosecution engaged in misconduct by arguing the defendant failed to exercise in reasonable alternatives and, if so if it was prejudicial to the defendant. In Washington, the use of force is permitted if the defendant reasonably believes he or she is about to be harmed and uses no more force than is necessary to prevent an offense against his or her body.

The degree of force permissible in self-defense is what a reasonably prudent individual would find necessary under the same conditions. In other words, that there were no other reasonably effective alternatives available to the use of force, and the force used was reasonable to obtain the purpose intended. The State bears the burden of proving actions were not taken in self-defense.

In the subject case, the appellate court found that the prosecution misstated the law in advising the jury the defendant had an obligation to take other measures to avoid harm and to warn the alleged victim he had a gun, which improperly shifted the burden to the defendant. Thus, the court vacated the verdict and remanded the case for a new trial.

Meet with a Skillful Criminal Defense Attorney

If you live in Washington and are charged with assault or any other crime it is advisable to meet with a skillful Washington assault defense attorney regarding your charges and what you can do to protect your liberties. The zealous attorneys of the Law Offices of Smith & White will assess the facts of your case and advise you of your options for seeking a successful result. We can be contacted through our form online or at 253-203-1645 to schedule a meeting regarding your case.

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