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An Introduction to Assault Charges

The Washington State criminal code does not define the term “assault.”  Instead, the courts have defined the term through the common law.  Washington courts classify three types of activities as “assault:”

  1. An intentional, “unlawful touching” that is harmful or offensive;
  2. An attempt, with unlawful force, to inflict bodily injury upon another person; and
  3. The act of putting another person in apprehension of harm, whether or not the actor actually intends to inflict that harm.

Under Washington law, an “unlawful touching” is harmful or offensive if the particular touching (or striking, cutting, shooting, or other contact) would offend an ordinary person.  Also, an act is not an assault if the person touched, struck, cut, or shot, consented to the alleged assault.Thus, the definition of “assault” in Washington State covers both those situations where an individual attempts to physically batter another person (successfully or not) against the other person's will, as well as instances where all the actor is trying to do is scare the other person into thinking that the actor is going to hurt him or her.

Chapter 9A.36 of the Revised Code of Washington lists the various types of assault that have been criminalized in the state, including four degrees of “assault,” three degrees of “assault of a child,” and “custodial assault.”  Each of these flavors of the criminal charge of assault is discussed below.

Basic Assault

Washington State recognizes four degrees of basic assault:

  1. The most serious basic assault charge is assault in the first degree.  According to RCW 9A.36.011(1), a person is guilty of assault in the first degree if, with the “intent to inflict great bodily harm,” that person either:
  • Assaults another person with a firearm or any other deadly weapon;
  • Assaults another person with force likely to produce great bodily harm or death;
  • Assaults another person with any amount of force and succeeds in inflicting great bodily harm to the other person; or
  • Exposes or transmits HIV to another person.

Assault in the first degree is a class A felony and carries with it a potential maximum sentence of life in prison and a $50,000 fine.

     2.The next most serious basic assault charge is assault in the second degree.  Prosecutors use this charge when the circumstances of the assault do      not rise to the level necessary to charge assault in the first degree.  A person can be charged with assault in the second degree for a variety of                assaults, including if s/he:

  • Intentionally assaults another person and thereby recklessly inflicts substantial bodily harm to that other person;
  • Intentionally and unlawfully causes substantial bodily harm to an unborn child via inflicting injury upon the child's mother;
  • Assaults another person with a deadly weapon;
  • Poisons someone with the intent to inflict bodily harm on that person;
  • Assaults someone while intending to commit a felony;
  • Knowingly inflicts bodily harm on another person amounting to torture; or
  • Assaults another person by strangulation or suffocation.

Assault in the second degree is a class B felony and has a potential maximum sentence of ten years in jail and a $20,000 fine.  In addition, according to RCW 9A.36.021(2)(b), if the assault was sexually motivated, assault in the second degree becomes a class A felony.

     3.Washington State specifically criminalizes lesser assaults on certain public employees and classes of governmental actors under the crime of                assault in the third degree.  A person can be charged with assault in the third degree if he or she assaults one of the following individuals while that          individual is performing his or her official duties:

  • Transit operators or bus drivers, including school bus drivers;
  • Firefighters or law enforcement officers;
  • Nurses, physicians, or other health care providers; or
  • Judicial officers, bailiffs, clerks, or other court officers.

You can also be charged with assault in the third degree if you, acting with criminal negligence, cause bodily harm to another person – that is either accompanied by substantial pain that extends for a time long enough to cause considerable suffering, or if that harm was caused by using a weapon or other instrument likely to produce bodily harm.

Note that prosecutors will only charge assault in the third degree if the assault was not serious enough to rise to the level of assault in the first or second degree.  If the assault meets the requirements of the higher charges of assault in the first or second degree, prosecutors will usually pursue those more serious charges.

Assault in the third degree is a class C felony, which has a potential maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.                      

     4. Finally, there is assault in the fourth degree, which is essentially any assault that does not rise to the level of first, second, or third degree assault,        or custodial assault.  Assault in the fourth degree is a gross misdemeanor and is punishable by no more than 90 days in jail and a fine of up to                  $1,000.

Custodial Assault

Similar to assault in the third degree, Washington State has a specific assault charge – called custodial assault – for situations where a person assaults a staff member or volunteer of a jail, corrections institution, or other detention facility.  Also like assault in the third degree, prosecutors will usually charge the more serious charges of assault in the first or second degree if the circumstances of the assault rise to those levels.   Custodial assault is a class C felony.

Assault of a Child

Lastly, Washington State also recognizes three degrees of assault specific to situations where the victim of the assault is a child:

1. An adult over the age of 18 can be charged with assault of a child in the first degree if that adult either:

  • Commits assault in the first degree (as described above) against a child under the age of 13; or
  • Intentionally assaults a child under the age of 13 and either (i) recklessly inflicts great bodily harm to the child, or (ii) causes substantial bodily harm to the child and the adult has previously assaulted the child in a way that produced lasting pain or torture.  

It is a class A felony.

2. An adult can be charged with assault of a child in the second degree if that adult either:

  • Commits assault in the second degree (as described above) against a child under the age of 13; or
  • Intentionally assaults the child and the adult has previously assaulted the child in a way that produced lasting pain or torture.  

Assault of a child in the second degree is a class B felony.

3. An adult can be charged with assault of a child in the third degree if the adult, with criminal negligence:

  • Causes bodily harm to a child under the age of 13 that is either accompanied by substantial pain; or
  • If the harm was caused by using a weapon or other instrument likely to produce bodily harm.

It is a class C felony.

“Let My Extensive Experience as a Former Prosecutor Work For You.”

Assault charges are serious criminal charges – if you have been accused of assault, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.  Call the Law Office of Steve Karimi today – our firm is dedicated to protecting your constitutional rights and freedom.  Experienced criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi will take all measures necessary to fight for your legal rights and to advocate for your best interests.  As a former prosecutor, he understands the options available to you and will use his experience to achieve the best possible resolution for you.  Consultations are free and confidential.

Contact Us

If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-621-8777 during regular business hours or 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

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Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.