By: South Sound Law Group

What Differentiates Aggravated Assault from Simple Assault?

Criminal Defense

How is the Degree of Your Assault Charge Determined in Washington State?

Washington State statutes define three degrees of aggravated assault and one degree of simple assault. The charges are differentiated by the severity of the injuries inflicted, the perpetrator’s intent to cause serious harm, the use of weapons, and other circumstances of the incident. In general, an assault will typically be classified as aggravated if it resulted in substantial or severe physical injuries, involved a weapon or deadly weapon, occurred during the commission of another serious crime, or was committed against an individual with protected status, such as a law enforcement officer, nurse, or transit operator performing the duties of their job.

Any assault charge is serious and may be punished with hefty fines, jail or prison time, and other severe consequences. However, a conviction for aggravated assault is a felony and can have life-altering ramifications that could affect you long after your sentence is completed. Even seemingly minor altercations can sometimes result in aggravated assault charges, so it is crucial to seek the skilled representation of a Tacoma assault defense lawyer who will uphold your legal rights in court. 

What Qualifies as a Simple Assault?

Simple assault in Washington State is also known as Assault in the Fourth Degree and is a gross misdemeanor. You may be charged with simple assault if your case does not meet the criteria for any of the degrees of aggravated assault. The prosecution does not need to demonstrate that you caused the accuser any physical injury during a simple assault. Instead, they only need to prove that you initiated intentional contact that a reasonable person would find offensive or threatening. Shoving, slapping, or throwing an object at a person could potentially result in a simple assault charge, even if they suffered no apparent physical harm from the action.

Simple assault charges are very common. Frequently, there are no witnesses to an alleged simple assault, and the charges are based on the accuser’s version of events. In these situations, it is vital to enlist the assistance of a knowledgeable defense attorney who can determine the best way to fight these charges. Keep in mind that if the accuser is an intimate partner and you have prior domestic violence convictions, your simple assault charge could be increased to a Class C felony.

What is an Aggravated Assault?

An aggravated assault typically involves more significant injuries to the alleged victim or other factors, such as the use of a weapon, which make the crime more violent than a simple assault. All aggravated assault charges are felonies in Washington, but they are classified into three groups based on their severity.

First-Degree Assault

First-degree assault is considered the most serious form of aggravated assault and is a Class A felony. A person may be found guilty of first-degree assault in Washington if they assault another individual with a firearm or any deadly weapon or by any means likely to produce great bodily harm or death. “Great bodily harm” usually refers to severe and permanent injuries. First-degree assault can also encompass other substantially harmful acts, such as intentionally administering poison to someone or transmitting HIV to a vulnerable adult or child.

Second-Degree Assault

Second-degree assault occurs when an individual assaults another and causes substantial bodily harm, but the incident does not meet the criteria for first-degree assault. Second-degree assault can include, but is not limited to:

  • Injuries inflicted on an unborn child due to an assault on the mother
  • Strangulation or suffocation
  • Acts equivalent to torture
  • Assault during the commission of a felony
  • Poisoning
  • Assault with a deadly weapon

In most cases, first-degree assault is differentiated from second-degree assault by the intent of the accused individual to cause severe injury and the level of harm inflicted upon the victim. A second-degree assault is typically a Class B felony. However, if second-degree assault occurs as a result of a sexual motivation, as defined by state statutes, it becomes a Class A felony.

Third-Degree Assault

Third-degree assault is a Class C felony, which includes any assault that causes substantial pain that lasts long enough to cause significant suffering for the victim but does not rise to the level of a first or second-degree assault. Assault with an object that could be considered a weapon is also third-degree assault. Additionally, it can include any assault on members of protected professions while they are performing the duties of their jobs, including:

  • Public transit employees
  • School district transit employees
  • Firefighters
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Nurses and physicians
  • Judicial officers and other court-related employees

What Are the Potential Penalties for an Assault Conviction?

A conviction for any degree of assault can lead to jail or prison time, expensive fines, and other significant impacts on your life, family, and livelihood. The possible ramifications for an assault conviction in Washington state are as follows:

  • First-Degree Assault: Maximum sentence of life in prison and/or a fine of up to $50,000.
  • Second-Degree Assault: Up to 10 years in prison, a maximum fine of $20,000, or both. If the assault was committed with sexual intent, it may be increased to a Class A felony, and a conviction can result in the same consequences as a first-degree assault.
  • Third-Degree Assault: Up to five years in prison and/or a maximum fine of $10,000.
  • Fourth-Degree Assault: A maximum of one year of incarceration and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

Additionally, individuals convicted of assault may be required by the court to attend counseling or treatment programs, satisfy probation requirements, or participate in community service programs. Even after you’ve completed your sentence, a conviction could continue impacting your life by costing you your gun rights, limiting your ability to travel, and creating challenges in finding housing, employment, and financial aid for education.

How Can Our Law Firm Assist You?

The consequences for an aggravated or simple assault conviction can be severe and long-lasting, making it critical to mount the most vigorous defense possible. If you’re facing assault charges in Washington State, it is crucial to seek knowledgeable, experienced legal counsel to protect your rights. Contact our dedicated defense lawyers at South Sound Law Group today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your legal options: 253-465-2722.