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When you are being charged with an Assault in Washington State, here is what you need to know:


Being charged with assault can be disruptive and stressful  The implications can be life-changing. And, our court system can only complicate your understanding of what you should do.  Whether it is self-defense, defense of another person, a lapse in judgment, or something else that led you to face this charge, you will need strong legal representation to navigate your charges, defend your rights, and fight for the best possible outcome.



The term “assault” is not defined in the criminal code. Courts use common law to define the term.  Three definitions of assault have been recognized by Washington courts: (1) an attempt, with unlawful force, to inflict bodily injury upon another; (2) an unlawful touching with criminal intent; and (3) putting another in apprehension of harm whether or not the actor actually intends to inflict or is incapable of inflicting that harm. 



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 1st)– 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.


Assault in the first degree is a class A felony, which RCW §9A.20.021 defines as punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison, a maximum fine of $50,000, or both.


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.


Assault in the second degree is usually a class B felony, which RCW §9A.20.021 defines as punishable by a maximum sentence of ten years in prison, a maximum fine of $20,000 or both.

Second Degree Assault with a finding of sexual motivation under RCW 9.94A.835 or 13.40.135 is a Class A Felony.

*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..

Third degree assault is charged as a class C felony. A class C felony conviction is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Third degree assault is also considered a level III offense.

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”

Assault 4th degree is a gross misdemeanor that is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine, with no mandatory minimum (unless there is a special designation such as domestic violence).


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.


Whatever degree of assault you may be facing, the charge is a serious one with potential life-changing consequences. 

It is important that you understand the magnitude of the potential consequences of being charged and possibly convicted of an assault of any degree. You should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to obtain proper advice.  Cynthia Macklin is an experienced criminal defense attorney.  Call her now at 253-566-0808 or text her at 253-241-6356 to get a free initial consultation. 

It is important that you understand the magnitude of the potential consequences of being charged and possibly convicted of an assault of any degree. You should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to obtain proper advice.  Cynthia Macklin is an experienced criminal defense attorney.  Call her now at 253-566-0808 or text her at 253-241-6356 to get a free initial consultation. 

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