Self-Defense in Washington – The Basics

One of the only rules you can count on across all of fields of law is that every rule has an exception. One of the rules in the arena of criminal law is that it is almost always illegal to hurt or kill someone. However, even to this rule, there are certain exceptions: In the State of Washington, it is justifiable to hurt or even kill someone if you are defending yourself, someone else, or (in certain extreme cases) your property. This exception of self-defense (and defense of others or property), however, has its own complications and even its own exceptions, making things complex and difficult to understand, especially in the split seconds when you must decide whether to use force for self protection or survival, etc.

Despite these complexities, it can be crucially important to understand in at least a general sense, beforehand, when it is – and when it is not – legally justifiable to defend yourself or another against someone else who is threatening you or is already in the act of attacking you. Knowing when you can use force to stop them from hurting you can make the difference between convicted of a crime, or being acquitted on the grounds of self-defense.

Washington’s Self-Defense Law

The statute that allows you to use violence in self-defense lays out several situations where it is permissible: To defend yourself, other people, or your property. The law, unfortunately, is relatively unhelpful when it comes to determining the exact limits on what you can do, and when you can do it.

Use of Force Has to Be “Reasonable”

One of the biggest limitations to self-defense is that your use of force has to be reasonable in the circumstances. If someone comes up to you and threatens to punch you and it seems like they really mean to do it, you probably will not be able to claim self-defense if your response is to pull out a gun and shoot them several times. Such a response would likely be considered unreasonably serious, considering the nature of the threat.  In that hypothetical scenario, you would be deemed the primary aggressor and have no claim of self-defense as you’d be seen as having exceeded the permissible “scope of the defense of self-defense.”

Self-Defense is Not an Option If You Are the Aggressor

Another situation where self-defense is not a permissible justification for using violence is if you were the major or primary aggressor in the fight. This is true even if someone else initially started the altercation. If things then die down and peace is made, completely or significantly, you cannot then rile people back up again,resort to force for the initial previous attack started by the other person before the break in time and the total or complete cooling off of the situation, and hurt someone, and then claim self-defense — because you were not the original aggressor. By resurrecting the situation with violence in the name of self-defense, so to speak, you will be unable to say your actions were done in self-defense.  You will be the primary aggressor, and charged with assault or another crime, or both, and will face a substantial likelihood of eventual conviction, too.

You Have to Be Legally Entitled to Be Where You Physically Are — Cannot be a Trespasser

An important requirement to claim self-defense after hurting or killing someone is demonstrating that you were legally entitled to be in the location where the violence occurred. For example, if you were trespassing on someone else’s property and a fight breaks out, you will not be able to claim self-defense because you were on the other parties’ property without a justifiable reason.  This is less of an issue iof the property is owned or leased by both individuals involved.

Criminal Defense and Assault Attorney Phil Weinberg, JD

These are only a mere exemplary and very basic handful of the complexities involved in and constituting Washington State’s self-defense law. If you have been charged with assault or another violent crime, but know that you only acted in self-defense, you need an experienced attorney like Phillip L. Weinberg. Likewise, if you have been served with a temporary DV Protection Order (effective for 14 days until a return hearing in ncourt on that civil matter, this can evolve into criminal charges, in addition.)  In any of these situations, do not wait to get experienced legal representation.  Call Phil Weinberg’s law office at (425) 367-1122 or contact him online.