At one point or another, everyone can find themselves in a heated argument. However, if things go too far, words turn to threats, situations get physical, and assault charges may not be far behind. Even if you feel that you aren’t to blame, an assault charge in Washington will create turmoil in your life. Don’t let a misunderstanding or lapse in judgment ruin your future. Discuss your situation and review all of your legal options with a highly-skilled assault attorney.
Protect yourself from an assault charge. Contact a Tacoma domestic violence attorney from The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC today. Call us at (253) 733-2093, or submit a request online to schedule a free and confidential consultation.
Defining Assault in Washington
According to Washington law, assault is intentionally causing bodily injury to another, unlawfully touching someone with criminal intent, or putting another in fear of physical harm. This means you can be charged with assault even if you do not make physical contact with an intended victim.
Degrees of Assault & Penalties
Assault charges can result from a variety of circumstances and range in severity from misdemeanors filed in City Court or District Court, to class A felonies filed in Superior Court. There can also be enhanced penalties for an assault related to domestic violence if an assault was committed against a minor, or other factors suggest the charge should be heightened to aggravated assault.
If you’re facing charges for any of the following offenses, contact a Tacoma assault attorney from The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC today:
Assault in the First Degree (RCW 9A.36.011)
This is the most severe assault crime, and it’s pursued as a class A felony. If convicted of this crime, you face a maximum sentence of life in prison, fines reaching $50,000, or both. For a first offense, you can realistically expect penalties between 93 and 123 months in jail and perhaps life in prison if you’re a repeat offender. Prosecutors typically file charges for assault in the first degree when someone intentionally inflicts great bodily harm or uses force that is likely to yield great bodily harm or death.
Assault in the Second Degree (RCW 9A.36.021)
This crime is categorized as a class B felony, and it is normally filed when someone:
- Intentionally inflicts substantial bodily harm on another
- Threatens someone with a deadly weapon
- Assaults another individual while committing a felony
You may also be found guilty of assault in the second degree if you cause harm to an unborn child, expose someone to poison or a noxious substance, knowingly inflict harm equal to that produced by torture, or assault another by strangulation or suffocation. An example of a substantial injury could be a broken bone or any wound requiring medical attention. Essentially, the difference between assault in the first and second degree depends on the extent of the injury.
As a class B felony, a conviction can result in a prison term of up to 10 years, and a fine of up to $20,000. For a first-time conviction without a weapon enhancement, a sentence will typically be between three and nine months. For help in avoiding these harsh penalties, contact a Tacoma assault attorney from The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC today.
Assault in the Third Degree (RCW 9A.36.031)
This lesser, but still very serious charge is treated as a class C Felony with a maximum punishment of five years in prison, fines reaching $10,000, or both imprisonment and fines. If you’re a first-time offender without an enhanced weapon penalty, a typical sentence could be between one and three months. You may also be permitted to complete community service instead of incarceration.
Assault in the third-degree is usually filed against someone who causes harm with a weapon or harmful instrument or negligently causes substantially painful bodily harm with criminal negligence. Additionally, third-degree assault is seen in instances of intentional harm to a law enforcement officer, firefighter, nurse, physician, or bus driver while they are performing their official duties.
Assault in the Fourth Degree (RCW 9A.36.041)
Fourth-degree assault, often referred to as “simple assault,” is a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and fines of up to $5,000. An injury doesn’t necessarily have to occur for fourth-degree assault charges to be filed. The contact just needs to be considered offensive or aggressive to an “ordinary person.” Because there is often no physical evidence of an injury, being unfairly accused of fourth-degree assault is common.
Your fourth-degree assault offense will be heightened to a class C felony, however, if you have two or more convictions for the following charges on your record within the past 10 years:
- Repeated instances of domestic violence
- An out-of-state crime comparable in nature to assault in the fourth degree
- Harassment crimes
- Assault in the first, second, or third degree
While fourth-degree assault is considered a relatively minor offense, it still caries harsh penalties if convicted. This makes it very important to retain the help of a skilled criminal defense attorney to combat the potential harm to your life and criminal record.
Collateral Consequences of an Assault Conviction in Washington
Aside from hefty fines and incarceration, there are also various collateral consequences you face if convicted of assault in Washington, such as:
- Employment Issues – With a violent crime on your record, some employers may be skeptical about hiring you or allowing you to continue your current job.
- Loss of Gun Ownership – If your assault conviction was related to domestic violence, you will likely lose the ability to own or possess a firearm.
- Child Custody Problems – If a court believes you to be a violent individual due to an assault offense, you may be barred from spending the amount of time with your children that you’re used to.
Beyond statutory jail or prison sentences and monetary fines, other consequences of an assault conviction in Washington include issues continuing your education, challenges finding rental housing, ineligibility for financial aid for school, immigration issues, and tarnished relationships with your friends and family. A Tacoma assault attorney from The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC will fight hard to prevent the above penalties from affecting your life.
How Can I Defend Myself from an Assault Charge? Contact an Assault Lawyer Today
While criminal allegations and charges related to an assault can feel overwhelming regardless of the level of your alleged offense, it is important to remember that charges and allegations are just that – charges and allegations. Nothing has been decided, and you have the right to defend yourself.
There are several defense strategies available if you have been charged with assault in Washington. With the help of a knowledgeable assault attorney, you can possibly assert:
If you used reasonable force to protect yourself from harm, and that reasonable force is being viewed as assault, your lawyer can argue that you were simply protecting yourself, and that you should not face criminal charges for such action. For example, say you get into an argument at a traffic light for accidentally cutting someone off, and the other driver gets out of their vehicle and physically attacks you. If you instinctively throw a punch to prevent yourself from being injured, it can be argued that you acted in self-defense and should not face criminal charges for doing so.
- Defense of Another
If you were preventing another person from being harmed, your attorney may argue that your assault charges should be dismissed. If you witnessed an argument that escalated into a physical fight and stepped in to prevent someone from being harmed, your lawyer can argue that you were intending to protect someone else by using only the force that was necessary.
- Lack of Intent
To be convicted of assault in any degree, the prosecution must prove that you intended to harm or injure your alleged victim(s). For example, if you slipped and accidentally collided with someone, who misunderstood the incident, your lawyer can argue that you did not specifically aim or decide to physically harm the other party, and that you should not face assault charges as a result.
- Mistaken Identity
For the prosecution to secure a conviction against you, they must prove that you were, indeed, the individual who committed an alleged assault offense. If you were simply in the same location where an assault took place and someone accidentally identified you as the person who committed the offense, your lawyer will fight to rebut this allegation. A capable assault attorney will argue that the witness’s account is flawed, and is, in fact, an instance of mistaken identity.
Additionally, assault charges also frequently involve issues with the rules of evidence, especially in relation to hearsay. When an alleged victim or reporting witness will not be present for a jury trial, this can often prove an impossible hurdle for the prosecution to overcome, because of hearsay rules.
One of the most commonly misunderstood defenses is that of self-defense. For an effective self-defense or defense of another person argument, evidence will need to show that the force used was reasonable and you reasonably believed you or another individual to be in imminent risk of being harmed. Furthermore, the force must be proportional to the threat. For instance, if you believed that someone was about to slap you, you would not be justified in using lethal force to prevent a slap.
Contact a Tacoma Assault Attorney at The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC Today
No matter the specific type of assault charge or the surrounding circumstances, each Washington assault case is extremely serious. If your case is not properly handled, a conviction can cause several hardships for you and your family. Such difficulties include problems finding a job with a violent felony on your record, issues with immigration, problems obtaining rental housing, and even the possibility of spending time behind bars.
If you are arrested or accused of assault, protecting your rights should be your first concern. You should never speak with or make any statements to the police before consulting with a knowledgeable assault attorney who will have your best interests in mind. With a record of achieving the best possible outcomes for his clients, you can trust that criminal defense attorney Morgan Fletcher Benfield will clearly explain your situation and work hard for you.
If you’re facing charges for an assault-related crime in Tacoma or its surrounding areas, contact The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield at (253) 733-2093 to schedule a free and confidential case consultation.