Assault Charges

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

This loose definition of assault results in many arrests that on the surface might not appear to be serious. However, without a proper defense, these accusations can result in life altering consequences. 

Assault Crime Defenses

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, another person, and in some circumstances, personal property and real estate that belongs to you. 

You do not need to be attacked to meet the State’s definition of self defense. However, you would need to have a reasonable fear that you or your property were about to be maliciously harmed.  

For an assault conviction, the prosecutor must also prove that your intent was to cause harm. The involvement of drugs or alcohol can cause impairment levels that result in unusual or uncharacteristic decision making.

A skilled assault attorney will utilize the specific facts of each case to create a compelling defense and strong negotiations. 


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 or if there was a firearm or dangerous weapon involved. If a juvenile is charged with assault, the consequences will be determined by the Juvenile Justice System.

It can be difficult to determine the differences between great bodily harm (Assault 1), substantial bodily harm (Assault 2), and harm (Assault 4). 

Unfortunately, prosecutors in the Tacoma and Seattle areas commonly err 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.

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, even something as minor as a couple of stitches or a broken tooth can meet the definition for Assault 2. If there is an allegation of choking or using a deadly weapon, there does not need to be an injury or even a red mark in the case of choking.

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.

The Judge cannot deviate from that amount of time unless it is an exceptional circumstance (which is rare). A conviction for Assault in the Second Degree will result in a "Strike" for purposes of the Three Strikes Rule.

3rd Degree Assault (Assault 3)

A crime that would normally be punished as an Assault 4 will be punished as an Assault in the Third Degree 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. It can also be the result of an assault that occurs while in jail or in the courtroom. 

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 a "reasonable 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 force the accused to do a number of onerous things including but not limited to:

  1. Alcohol or drug treatment
  2. Mental health treatment 
  3. Domestic Violence batterer’s treatment
The No Contact Order
Assaults of all degrees frequently occur between people who know each other. This is often considered “Domestic Violence.” 

If the alleged victim is a spouse, family member, intimate partner, or household member, a DV designation will be added to the case. Nearly every time an assault is charged, the prosecutor will seek to put a No Contact Order in place to protect the alleged victim from the accused.
The Order can prevent an accused person from seeing their spouse and children, even forcing them to find a new place to live while leaving their property behind. A good lawyer can argue against the No Contact Order and do whatever is necessary to prevent the accused person’s life from being severely disrupted.

After the Arrest

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 lawyer 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 situation.