Assault Charges

Assault Charges In Washington State, assault is defined by the courts as unwanted physical harm. To meet the definition of harm, the physical contact does not need to cause an injury. It only needs to be considered offensive.

If you were acting in self defense or in defense of another person, this can be a valid defense. WA State law allows you to use reasonable and necessary force to protect yourself or another person.

For an assault conviction, the prosecutor must also prove that your intent was to create harm. The involvement of drugs or alcohol can result in impairment levels that make it difficult to establish criminal intent.

Most felony or aggravated assault charges in Washington State are strike offenses that can result in significant jail time or life in prison for a third strike offense. A qualified assault lawyer can argue that aggravated or felony assault charges are too serious, given the nature of the accusations.


There are four degrees or levels of seriousness that determine how an alleged assault is charged in Washington State. The 1st Degree is the most serious. There are enhanced penalties if the assault is related to Domestic Violence. If a juvenile is charged with assault, the consequences will be determined by the Juvenile Justice System.

1st Degree Assault (Assault 1)

This charge is normally filed if there are allegations that you caused “great bodily harm,” such as a permanent and serious injury to another person. A weapon does not need to be involved. First Degree Assault is a Class A felony that can result in jail time of 93-123 months for a first time offender and life in prison for a repeat offender.

2nd Degree Assault (Assault 2)

This charge is typically filed if there are accusations that you caused “substantial bodily harm.” A broken bone or other injury requiring medical treatment can meet the definition of substantial bodily harm. However, if there is an allegation of choking or using a deadly weapon, there does not need to be an injury.

Second Degree Assault is a Class B felony that can result in a prison term of up to 10 years. For a first time conviction without a weapons enhancement, jail time is typically between 3 and 9 months.

3rd Degree Assault (Assault 3)

A crime that would normally be punished as an Assault 4 will be punished as an Assault 3 if the alleged harm was caused to a person while performing certain occupations. This charge is commonly filed when there are allegations of assault on a police officer during an arrest.

Third Degree Assault is a Class C felony that can result in jail time up to 5 years. If you are a first time offender and there is not an enhanced penalty for using a deadly weapon, the standard jail sentence will likely be between 1 and 3 months. Community service may be allowed instead of jail time.

4th Degree Assault (Assault 4)

If the standards for Assault 1, 2, & 3 are not met, Assault in the 4th Degree can be charged. No injury needs to occur for Assault 4 charges to be filed. The contact just needs to be considered offensive by an "ordinary person." Since there is often times no physical evidence of an assault, being wrongfully accused of Assault 4 is quite common.

Fourth Degree Assault is a gross misdemeanor and jail time ranges from 0 to 364 days, with fines of up to $5000. Depending on the circumstances, the court can also order alcohol or drug treatment, as well as anger management classes.

After the Arrest

It can be difficult to determine the difference between great bodily harm (Assault 1), substantial bodily harm (Assault 2), and harm (Assault 4). Unfortunately, prosecutors in the Tacoma and Seattle areas commonly error on the side of charging defendants with a more serious degree of assault. Without proper legal representation, you may find yourself accepting an unfavorable plea bargain or conviction.

All allegations of assault are very serious and you should not speak to the police or make any statements without the presence of an experienced criminal attorney. Cristine Beckwith is an experienced assault attorney who has offices in Seattle and Tacoma, WA. She is known for being a compassionate advocate for her clients as well as a tenacious fighter in the courtroom.

Cristine's experience in the courtrooms of King County, Pierce County, and Thurston County, including the courts of Tacoma, Puyallup, Seattle, Bellevue, Olympia, and Lakewood, WA can create an important advantage in your case. She offers a free consultation to discuss your case.