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What is Assault?

The crime of assault is defined in several ways. In Washington, the typical assault allegedly occurs in a situation where there is intentional contact with another person that is harmful or offensive. In other words, the act of striking another person, such as a slap, can be charged as a crime of assault. An assault can also occur when a person acts with an intent to inflict bodily injury to another but fails. Yet another type of assault can happen when a person commits an act with the intent to create the fear of being struck, and the act does cause the other person to a reasonable apprehension and imminent fear of bodily injury, whether or not physical contact takes place.

In Washington, the crime of assault is divided into degrees, with the severity of injury a person inflicts defining the criminal charge. The most common charge of assault is Assault in the Fourth Degree. This is a gross misdemeanor. This charge and the other levels of assault are defined below with the least serious first:

Assault in the Fourth Degree

This is an intentional touching of another person that is harmful or offensive. It is defined as Fourth Degree because no significant bodily injury is alleged. The most common scenario is when one person slaps another or if two people end up in a bar fight.

Assault in the Third Degree

This level of Assault is a Class C Felony and can occur in two scenarios. The first involves the physical contact of Assault in the Fourth Degree (defined above) but the person who suffers the contact is a law enforcement officer, transit (bus driver) operator, school bus driver, firefighter, EMT, nurse, or doctor. The most common occurrence of this type of charge is when a person pushes, or evens spits, on an officer when he or she is being arrested for something else.

Assault in the Third Degree can also be charged when a person causes bodily harm accompanied by substantial pain. Usually, this is deep bruising or other associated pain that falls short of the next crime, Assault in the Second Degree.

Assault in the Second Degree

This is a Class B Felony and a "strike" offense. A crime can be classified as Assault in the Second Degree if the level of bodily harm inflicted upon a person is "substantial" or rises to the level as can be defined as "torture." This is seen in cases where a person suffers a broken nose, loss of consciousness, or has an injury that requires stitches.

Assault in the Second Degree can also be charged in situations where a person uses a "deadly" weapon. The weapon used does not necessarily need to be a gun or knife, but can include such things as a car, a wrench or even a rock. The deadly weapon also does not need to be used to inflict bodily injury on another; the use of it merely needs to be threatened.

Assault in the First Degree

This is a Class A felony and a "strike offense." This requires the prosecution to show a person acted with the intent to "inflict great bodily injury," and (1) assaults another person with a firearm or any deadly weapon or by any force or means likely to produce great bodily harm - this is a step further than Assault in the Second Degree because the weapon is actually used to cause contact with another person, or (2) assaults another and inflicts great bodily harm - this action simple requires a person to have the intent and to carry out an injury to another that causes great bodily injury.