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Assault Charges and Washington Law

Posted Monday, July 13, 2020 by Andrew Charles Huff

Washington state law has four specific degrees of assault which prosecutors can charge someone with, depending on the specific nature of the assault. While always considered a “violent” offense by the law, an assault charge will be classified as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on factors such as whether weapons were used and the extent of any injuries.

Crimes of assault are divided into four different degrees—assault in the First Degree, Second Degree, Third Degree, and Fourth Degree, depending on the alleged perpetrator’s intent, how the assault was carried out, and the results of the assault.

What is Fourth Degree Assault?

Fourth Degree Assault is the most commonly charged and least serious assault charge in Washington. A charge of Fourth Degree Assault is an assault that does not meet the requirements of an assault in the First, Second, or Third degrees. This essentially covers any unwanted touching of another person.

Domestic Violence and Fourth Degree Assault

An assault will also be considered an act of domestic violence when the alleged victim is of the same family or household as the defendant. People who would fit this element include:

Current and ex-spouses;Relatives by blood or marriage; Domestic partners and former domestic partners;Current and former intimate partners; Roommates both current and previous.

What is the Threshold for an Arrest Charge?

It does not take much to be charged with Fourth Degree Assault. There simply must be proof offensive touching and no proof of injury is required.For most domestic violence reports, police are under a mandate to make an arrest, even if there is only the slightest evidence that an assault actually took place. This often happens without the police hearing the other party’s side of the story or without them finding any other evidence than the alleged victim’s word.

Throughout my career, I have represented many folks fighting with their significant other, going through a divorce or child custody dispute or dealing with issues of infidelity. In these cases, one party may be motivated to accuse the other of assault in order to gain an advantage or to punish them for the perceived wrongdoing, when no assault actually occurred.

Prosecution and Sentencing

Fourth Degree Assault is a gross-misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a maximum fine of $5000. You may also be ordered to attend anger management or substance abuse classes, and/or to complete a period of probation.However, for a “domestic violence” assault conviction, you may also lose the right to own or possess a firearm and be issued a restraining order that will require you to have no contact with the victim. In addition, the court may order you to attend domestic violence counseling and to pay additional fines and fees.

A typical situation I have dealt with is a client calling me from jail after being arrested for an argument with their spouse or partner, which led to police being called. When arrested for this offense, you may spend a few hours in jail before you are released.

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