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Assault charges: misdemeanor and felony

The crime of Assault carries significant consequences. When first charged, at your first appearance hearing or arraignment, the court will either set bail or release you on your personal recognizance. The court will also set conditions of release that you would have to abide by while the case is pending. It is very important that an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney help navigate you through these complicated channels. In addition to incarceration, an assault charge carries with it significant collateral consequences such as a criminal conviction on your record, immigration consequences, loss of firearm rights, loss of the right to vote, etc. Having an aggressive and experienced criminal defense attorney who will fight for you is crucial.

In Washington State, Assault is defined as “physical harm” by RCW 9A.36. In its most basic definition, Assault can be defined as any intentional offensive or harmful touching. Such touching does not need to cause injury to be considered an assault.

The crime of assault is divided into varying degrees. Assault Fourth Degree is a misdemeanor. Assault Third Degree, Assault Second Degree, and Assault First Degree are felony offenses. There are enhanced penalties if an assault is related to domestic violence or if other aggravating circumstances exist. Assault Second Degree and Assault First Degree are strike offenses, which means that if found guilty, can result in significant jail time or life in prison if the offense is a person’s third strike. Washington law allows you to act in self-defense if acting in defense of yourself or another and such defense is reasonable.

Assault in the First Degree is considered a Class A felony and a “Serious Violent Offense.” Assault 1 is also a strike offense. Assault in the First Degree is defined by RCW 9A.36.011 to be when someone acts with intent to inflict great bodily harm by either:

  • assaulting another with a firearm or any deadly weapon or by any force or means to produce great bodily harm or death; or
  • administers, exposes, or transmits to or causes to be taken by another, poison, HIV virus, or any other destructive or noxious substance; or
  • assaults another and inflicts great bodily harm.

A conviction for Assault First Degree can result in prison time of 93 to 123 months for a first time offender with no prior criminal history or life in prison if this there are two prior strike offenses.

Assault in the Second Degree is considered a Class B felony and a “Violent Offense.” Assault 2 is also a strike offense. RCW 9A.36.021 defines Assault Second Degree in these circumstances:

  • When someone intentionally assaults another and thereby recklessly inflicts substantial bodily harm; or
  • Intentionally and unlawfully causes substantial bodily harm to an unborn child by intentionally and unlawfully inflicting any injury upon the mother of such child; or
  • Assaults another with a  deadly weapon; or
  • With intent to inflict bodily harm, administers to or causes to be taken by another, poison or any other destructive or  noxious substance; or
  • With intent to commit a felony, assaults another; or
  • Knowingly inflicts bodily harm which by design causes pain or agony as to be equivalent of that produced by torture; or
  • Assaults another by strangulation or suffocation.

Typically, Assault 2 is filed when there are allegations of “substantial bodily harm” like when there is a broken bone or injuries requiring medical treatment.  However, if there are allegations of strangulation or choking, the State need not prove ascertainable injury. With an allegation of choking, even with very little physical evidence, the prosecutors will probably elevate this charge from a misdemeanor Assault 4th Degree to a felony Assault Second Degree.

As mentioned above, Assault 2 is a strike offense. For a first time offense, the standard range is 3 to 9 months in jail if there are no aggravating circumstances or other enhancements.

Assault Third Degree is a Class C Nonviolent felony and is typically charged when the alleged victim is employed in a certain profession at the time of the assault or if, by criminal negligence, the assault causes bodily harm accompanied by pain that extends for a period sufficient to cause considerable suffering. See RCW 9A.36.031.

Unlike Assault 1 and Assault 2, an Assault 3 is not a strike offense.  For a first time offender, the standard range could be 1 to 3 months in jail.

Assault Fourth Degree is a misdemeanor, which means the maximum penalty is 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. To be found guilty of Assault 4, the State must prove an intentional touching that was harmful or offensive to another person.  This could include such acts such as hitting, punching, scratching, or spitting on someone.