No one goes out on a Friday or Saturday night thinking they want to end the evening facing an assault charge. But incidents happen, tempers flare, and situations escalate. And all of a sudden you’ve been involved in a fight, the police were called, and you could be facing assault charges.
Here are 10 tips for what to do if you’ve been charged with assault, and how you can minimize the severity of the charge and maximize the chance of having the charges against you thrown out.
Assault is the crime of causing unwanted physical contact with another person. You can be charged with assault even if the victim did not sustain physical injuries.
Depending on the nature of the contact, the severity of any injuries, and other extenuating circumstances, an assault charge can range from a gross misdemeanor to a class A felony.
In Washington, the crime of assault is divided into 4 classes, or degrees, with first degree assault being the most severe, and fourth degree assault the least severe.
Assault in the first degree is the most severe form of assault. A person can be charged with assault in the first degree for an assault that involves a firearm or other deadly weapon, or uses force that is likely to produce great bodily harm or death.
A person can also be charged with assault in the first degree for exposing another person to HIV or “any other destructive or noxious substance.” RCW 9A.36.011
Assault in the second degree occurs when a person intentionally assaults another and recklessly causes substantial bodily harm, assaults another person with a deadly weapon, causes someone to take poison or other noxious or destructive substance, or assaults another person in the commission of a felony.
A person can be charged with second degree assault if the victim sustained significant injuries, such as a broken bone, if the event involved allegations of strangulation, or if a deadly weapon was used.
Assault in the second degree is distinguishable from assault in the first degree primarily in the amount of harm caused, and the type of harm intended to be caused.
Assault in the third degree applies to people who assault others in a position of authority, such as judges, public transit employees, school bus drivers, law enforcement officers, or medical providers. It also includes assaults involving criminal negligence that result in bodily harm to another person.
Assault in the fourth degree is the least severe form of assault. It is broadly defined and covers any type of unwanted touching of another person.
Penalties for an assault conviction will vary based on the unique circumstances surrounding the incident and the severity of the charge.
First degree assault is a class A felony, punishable by at least 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $50,000, or both.
Second degree assault is a class B felony and can result in up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $20,000, or both.
Third degree assault, a class C felony, carries a sentence of up to 5 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
Fourth degree assault is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
Depending on the circumstances of the case, it is possible to beat an assault charge.
Law enforcement personnel can present evidence in a way that makes it appear as if a deadly weapon was used, even if this was not the case. Any item that can be used to cause serious injury can be construed as a deadly weapon. For example, guns, knives, bats, and motor vehicles can all be described as a “deadly weapon” for purposes of enhancing an assault charge.
Even if you are facing charges of assault with a deadly weapon, a skilled and experienced criminal defense lawyer can challenge the evidence against you, calling into question whether a deadly weapon was really used.
You may be able to claim self defense, either of yourself or others.
Self-defense is a complete defense to a charge of assault and can be raised if you used reasonable force to defend yourself against an assault, the real threat of assault, or in defense of others.
Even if the other person was injured, you can raise self-defense if you were physically attacked or had a reasonable belief that you would be attacked, if you used force while defending another person, or if you were defending your real or personal property. Keep in mind that the degree of force you use to defend yourself must be reasonable under the circumstances.
If you were in a domestic relationship with the victim of the assault, a domestic violence designation could be added to the assault charge which will increase the severity of the consequences if you are convicted.
A domestic violence designation may apply if the assault involved a family member, roommate, romantic partner, or parent of your child.
A No Contact order is issued in almost all domestic violence cases. Communication with alleged victim is usually a violation of the No Contact order, so it is important that you cease all contact with the victim.
If you were involved in a fight and the police are called, it’s natural to want to explain your side of the situation.
While this is most people’s natural reaction, it’s not a good idea.
Police officers are trained to get information out of people, and to manipulate people to get them to say what they want.
You do not have to talk to the police.
If you are questioned, simply say that you do not wish to discuss the matter. If you are taken into custody the police are required to inform you of your right to remain silent and give you the opportunity to speak with a lawyer.
Politely tell the police that you do not wish to discuss the matter and ask to speak to a lawyer.
An assault is traumatic for everyone involved. Again, it’s natural to want to discuss the events with other people, to explain your side of events, or to ask for support or advice.
Resist this urge, especially if you were one of the people directly involved in the altercation.
The same way things you say to police can be used against you in court, information you share with other people can be used against you if you are charged with assault.
Anytime you are involved in a situation that could involve you having to go to court, do not post about it on social media. These comments will become Exhibit A in the case against you, blown up and shown to the jury for maximum effect.
Memories fade quickly, even after a high-stress incident like a fight, and people’s versions of events change, sometimes imperceptibly over time, as they learn more about the event from talking to others.
Record your version of the events as quickly as possible, and include as much detail as possible. This information will help you recall what happened. If you don’t write it down, you might forget an important piece of information that your lawyer could use to help build your defense.
If you were charged with assault, having a list of witnesses can be a tremendous help to your lawyer when mounting your defense. Witnesses include people who were there when the incident occurred, as well as people who can testify about your relationship, if any, with the victim, and your good character.
When compiling a list of potential witnesses, consider:
Put together a list of potential witnesses, but don’t contact them, at least until after you’ve met with a lawyer and discussed what to do.
Contacting an attorney to defend you against charges of assault may be the most important thing you can do.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer knows what you are going through. It’s a confusing and stressful time. A lawyer can give you advice, represent you in court, and handle any questions, whether those are from the media or law enforcement.
If you or someone you care about was charged with assault, contact an attorney as quickly as possible.
Washington criminal defense attorney Justin Campbell has helped people throughout northwest Washington who have faced assault charges, in Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Friday Harbor, and all courts in Skagit County, including Anacortes, Mount Vernon, Burlington, and Sedro-Woolley.
Learn why clients choose us, or contact attorney Justin Campbell today by calling (360) 588-4111, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or completing our online form to schedule a free 90-minute consultation to discuss your case.