Assaults of Differing Degrees

Josh Farley writes:

When does fourth-degree assault become a felony third-degree assault? The short answer is that it depends on the victim.

Sharon O’Hara got me curious about the Washington assault statutes after she posed an interesting question in a comment posted to a story. Follow the links to learn more about the individual incidents.

“4th degree assault for beating up someone at a Red Robin…..a felony charge for a person hitting the ferry captain … Why such a difference? Is a captain of a ferry boat more important than a Red Robin customer?”

The short answer, Sharon, is that in the legal system, there aren’t “more important” people, but there are ones performing services that affect all of us more than others. I spoke with Kitsap County Deputy Prosecutor Chris Casad for the clarification.

A misdemeanor fourth-degree assault — basically any kind of “unlawful touching” — is punishable by up to a year in the county jail. But it becomes third-degree felony assault — punishable by up to five years in a state prison — for a myriad of reasons, most commonly when the person assaulted is performing a “public service.”

Jobs in which victims are considered public servants include nurses, firefighters, transit operators, and of course, our law enforcement officers.

In the case of the ferry captain, he was performing a public service, and Casad said that was hampered by the alleged punch (which likely caused delays and other problems).

For those interested, here’s the link to the assault statutes in the Revised Code of Washington.

18 thoughts on “Assaults of Differing Degrees

  1. Thanks Josh…its understandable now.
    I wonder what the RCW is for the drunken, impaired driver?
    A vehicle has to qualify as a ‘weapon’ in the wrong hands and whose hands are more wrong on the steering wheel of a cars than the drunken, drugged driver?
    …in my opinion,
    Sharon O’Hara

  2. Sharon, the standard range for vehicular assault DUI is 3-9 months. Standard range for vehicular homicide DUI is 31-41 months. The sentence could be longer if the offender has prior convictions, then points are added. The thing is that these crimes are not considered by our legislature to be SERIOUS violent crimes so they get 33 1/3 % reduction in sentence. So in our case the offender will be released from the Dept of Corrections after serving 23 months. The last 6 months of a violent offenders sentence gets to be served in a work release facility. If you’re not mad enough yet, when it comes to vehicular assault it does not matter if the victim has a broken arm or is in a coma for the rest of h/er life, it is still the same.

  3. Nora, I’m beyond mad…I’m outraged at the continuing injustice of DUI sentencing…. something ‘we’ are responsible for allowing.

    Our legislators are voted into office by us… it pays for them to listen to their constituents … Norm Dicks is a good example of a legislator who not only listens, but goes the step beyond to benefit his district.

    How many voters in his district have written to him protesting the unfair, unjust, DUI laws?

    How many of us have written our legislators in protest of DUI killers driving impaired on our public roads?

    How many of us have taken the car keys from our impaired friends, family or neighbors before they can get out on the roads?

    How many of us have called 911 to alert them a drunk is on the road?

    It is my belief that some, if not many drunks will give up their keys – believe us when we say we’ll report them driving drunk if they leave.

    No bluffing…we’ll make the call. How else can we be taken seriously? We’re fighting back against drunk drivers and a loose criminal law system allowing DUI sentencing to continue as a joke and permission to play the Russian Roulette game on unknowing and innocent people…children..

    DUIs… don’t murder any more innocent people and its up to us to stop them! Take their vehicle keys or call 911.
    …in my opinion,
    Sharon O’Hara

  4. I am regularly angered by the “hate crime” laws on assault and battery. Why is it a lessor offense to injure a person who is not a member of a protected minority?

  5. Nora I contribitued to the loss of my own children’s lives. The difference is they are still alive. I have lived and learned. I know it is hard to I know it is hard to forgive and move on. I I will never forgive myself for the life my children have endured because of my one time careless mistake. Please remember that your loss is felt by me. I am so sorry

  6. How wonderful that people can and do “live and learn” from their mistakes. We all make them. It takes a “big” person to accomplish this and admit it. It takes a “bigger” person to accept the fact that people do learn from their mistakes and to forgive them.

    What happens in ones past is just that, the past. It is what is happening in your present day that matters.

    If we dwell on the past, how can we grow and enjoy the present and future?

    My hat is off to you Elaine. Please forgive yourself, so the present and future can be enjoyable with your children.

  7. I understand this and it got me thinking of Veh. Assault. There was a DUI Veh Assault in (I think) King County recently in which the drunk driver hit a cop. The cop had to have part of his leg amputated because of the injuries. Does anyone know if the standard changes in cases of Vehicular Assault?

  8. Vehicular assault is a little different because it does not require any intent to assault someone as an element of the crime. To meet the statute for vehicular assault you must either be reckless, impaired, or showing disregard for the safety of others when you cause a collision resulting in serious injury to another person, the degree does not change depending on who the victim is as in other types of assault. For the standard assault there must be intent to assault someone.

  9. Unfortunately, it all comes down to funding for our jails and prisons. Sentencing guidelines are directly tied to the amount of funding provided to the facilities that house inmates. Sentences are frequently lowered, especially for first time offenders, due directly to funding. In my opinion, if you’re going to make something illegal, fund the jails and prisons to house the offenders.

  10. Jon, Youre right about that and what is also unfortunate is that funding also goes directly to early release. In March The Dept of Corrections reports there were 1,188 convicted persons in community custody/supervision in Kitsap Co., 27,130 state wide. In any given month Kitsap has between 1,000 and 2,500 convicted offenders serving sentence in the community. Kitsap has one work release facility that has 54 beds.

  11. I’m beginning to think that if the first time offender was treated harshly, they would be less inclined to commit a second offense leading to less crowded jails.

    What % of the gently handled first time offender re-offend?
    Sharon O’Hara

  12. Jon L, I agree maybe some other budgets should be cut and put the money where it is best served. You have to speak to the Ways and Means Committee for that to happen. Last year we were successful at getting the Office of Public defense into Kitsap for parent representation by simply saying people in Dependency courts needed better Lawyers. Give OPD the money instead of DSHS. I am seeing a difference already. All it takes it a little of paying attention to what is going on in our state and a trip to Olympia when the specific budgets come up for public hearings. I go there a lot. Believe it or not We are still the people and we definetly run our state.

  13. Sharon it depends on who you ask. I have been in Olympia a lot lately and one statistic that was mentioned is that 78% of all re- offend within 5 years. The DOC can’t tell you what crimes are committed when felons are released early to community custody/supervision because they haven’t studied that yet, although they are supposed to get started on that soon. I know that as of now there are 450 people in the Kitsap Co. jail and 98 are charged with felony escape from community custody, 18 more with violation of community supervision, and 4 more for violation of community custody. These 120 are all people who have come from prison. Along with escape charges there is a manslaughter, 2 rapes, 1 kidnapping, 12 assaults and lots of other crimes. If they get sentenced with less than a year to do then they will stay in the county jail rather than be sent back to prison. If you really want to learn more about what is happening in the land of catch and release, go sit in on some of the meetings in Olympia with the Offender Reentry and Supervision Task Force. Felons are now getting 50% early release including violent crime offenders. Thing is that there are not enough community custody officers, access to treatment, jobs for felons, housing, or supervision when they get out. Our state prisons are understaffed and our county jails are crammed with DOC prisoners who have reoffended. Its a mess to be sure. I go to Olympia to represent victims. Don’t forget that the last 6 police officers killed were victims of offenders on community custody/supervision.

  14. Thanks T…
    .I didn’t know the last 6 police officers killed were killed by offenders on community custody supervision – a horrifying statistic!
    ‘We’ seem to cause the murder of our own police officers by letting these people loose.
    The fact that 78 % repeat a crime seems to indicate a needed and overdue reform in keep these people from making more victims!
    Why are the criminals treated so much better than their victims…present AND future?!
    Why does the criminal seem to have more rights than their victims?

    Seems to me that we need to change strategy since what we’re doing isn’t working for anyone…least of all law enforcement.

    If you represent victims in some way, you must have a feel and some knowledge of the offenders record…. and I wonder if most are first or second time offenders?

    Since we’re so lax on first time offenders, why not change the pattern by coming down hard the first time anyone commits a crime and, on the other end of the scale, use the death penalty generously to ensure the hardcore offenders will never hurt anyone again?
    Why are we housing criminals for their entire life?
    It seems to me that a criminal sentenced to life in prison is a person likely to offend again and therefore put humanely to sleep. That is what we do with rabid animals…why not do the same with those who prey on other humans? Put them down.

    At the very least, we would clear up the criminal housing situation… and we may well cut down on crime.

    Why provide more housing when we are not changing our methods of dealing with offenders and escalating the problem?
    450 people in the Kitsap County jail … why aren’t we making changes?
    Sharon O’Hara

  15. T,
    Thank you for the numbers and your insight. What’s the % of those DOC prisoners that “slip through the cracks” or have money to “get off scott free”?
    Yesterday I interviewed a convicted felon for my thesis with a criminal record a mile long. He laughed at Kitsap’s justice system. Six years ago he was convicted for kidnapping, weapon charges and multiple charges. He was given sixty-five years. He was let out after four on a technicality. He had plead guilty and has never made excuses for his actions. “John” said he spent his four years, eight days, and three hours pondering over his next move. Though it sounds strange and difficult for me to swallow, he was the most honest criminal I’ve come in contact with. He didn’t blame his criminal history on anyone…only himself. He stated he isn’t proud of the path that he chose, but he also wouldn’t change who he is. His attorney is now retained on a full time basis.
    Bottom line of what I’ve learned not only from him, but so many other prisoners is that they are not afraid of jail/prison. Most either get out early or simply get a slap on the wrist. Most of them know that they will get out and will be right back to their behavior within a short period of time.

  16. I have been in Olympia a lot lately and one statistic that was mentioned is that 78% of all re- offend within 5 years.

    Sheriff Joe Arpaio has a solution. He is doing it RIGHT in Arizona. He has jail meals down to 40 cents a serving and charges the inmates for them. He stopped smoking and porno magazines in the jails. Took away their weights. Cut off all but “G” movies. He started chain gangs so the inmates could do free work on county and city projects. Then he started chain gangs for women so he wouldn’t get sued for discrimination.
    He took away cable TV until he found out there was a federal court order that required cable TV for jails. So he hooked up the cable TV again but only let in the Disney channel and the weather channel. When asked why the weather channel he replied, so they will know how hot it’s gonna be while they are working on my chain gangs.
    He cut off coffee since it has zero nutritional value. When the inmates complained, he told them…..this is a good one……”This isn’t the Ritz/Carlton. If you don’t like it, don’t come back.”
    He bought Newt Gingrich’s lecture series on videotape that he pipes into the jails. When asked by a reporter if he had any lecture series by a Democrat, he replied that a democratic lecture series might explain why a lot of the inmates were in his jails in the first place. You have to love this guy!!
    More on the AZ Sheriff:
    With temperatures being even hotter than usual in Phoenix (116 degrees just set a new record), the Associated Press reports:
    About 2,000 inmates living in a barbed-wire-surrounded tent encampment at the Maricopa County Jail have been given permission to strip down to
    their government-issued pink boxer shorts. On Wednesday, hundreds of men wearing boxers were either curled up on their bunk beds or chatted in the tents, which reached 138 degrees inside the week before. Many were also swathed in wet, pink towels as sweat collected on their chests and dripped down to their pink socks. “It feels like we are in a furnace,” said James Zanzot, an inmate who has lived in the tents for 1 1/2 years. “It’s inhumane.”
    Joe Arpaio, the tough-guy sheriff who created the tent city and long ago started making his prisoners wear pink, and eat bologna sandwiches, is
    not one bit sympathetic He said Wednesday that he told all of the inmates: “It’s 120 degrees in Iraq and our soldiers are living in tents too, and
    they have to wear full battle gear, but they didn’t commit any crimes… so shut your damned mouths.” The prisoners will continue to experience repercussions every time they apply for a job and the employer does a background search of criminal and civil records check, national criminal records, Sex offender check

  17. I’m appalled at the glee with which many of you punish people who commit crime. MOST in jail are NOT hardened criminals…unless they have been MADE that way by the corrupt systems.

    Things can happen to anyone, anytime. Things can happen to YOU. Things that you never believed you could be implicated in. I know a family who filed bankruptcy because their own relative sued them for slipping on water in their kitchen. Its disgusting, the self-righteousness and lack of compassion of human beings today.

    Sure, things for example like intentional murder and rape should be highly punished. Wearing pink for some may help.

    Living in possibly morbid/mortal conditions is way over-the-line. The soldiers who are in Iraq chose to go. There are MANY people who don’t believe in the war to start with, so this Jailor using this argument is extremely unfounded and, I believe his intentions are evil.

    The vast majority of people who get this kind of sentencing have their entire lives stripped from them.

    As one person mentioned, for the rest of their lives they will have great problems getting a job. They have probably spent a huge amount of their own, and their familys money. Not being able to get/keep a job due to unresonable stigma destroys lives and civil structure.

    I cannot wait for some of you to have something happen in your lives that will cause you all this pain and loss, where you were either in the wrong place at the wrong time, or some other fluke or two second error that costs you your existence, dignity and humanity.

    Yes, it CAN happen to you.

    Grow up.

  18. Thank you, Carla. I sit here in front of the computer during another sleepless night looking at the Kitsap sun sending resumes and passing time. Your words of understanding gave me two seconds of peace in my heart which I have not had since the end of August. I am a Registered Nurse who cannot practice(work) because I made poor choices at the wrong time. I am 43 years old, have worked in health care since I could work, married, raising our grandson. My husband is a full time Grandpa and has not worked outside our home for 7 years. This worked well for us until I had a blank Wal-Mart money order in my hand. I went to Wal-Mart to cash it, it was not good. I do not know if it was made by someone or what. I have never been told. I did not know it was fraudulent. I thought it was a blessing. I did not place my name on it. I left it blank and asked the girl if she could cash it for me. She hollered whoo whoo I got one. I have had many years of various interactions with law enforcement. My youngest son is an addict frequently making bad choices. Police are, per my experience, not often good caring people. I know the laws related to disqualifying crimes for my profession. I was scared not to mention markedly embarrassed. I would not give her my ID. I was aware they phoned the police. I left and went to nearest gas station, was on phone to 911 dispatcher when the sheriff pulled up. I spent 4 days in kitsap county jail. The experience validated for me you are guilty until proven innocent, if you have money to hire a lawyer who will speak to you, otherwise just guilty. I had never been in any kind of trouble. I had no record. I simply became part of the “assembly line.” I had a different public defender at each court appearance. The third one I asked- do I get to talk to you about what happened she said “call me” it was to late. My next court date is a year out. I said “not guilty” when in front of the judge while in custody. Thereafter I was told to “sign here.” Today my family is facing significant losses due to my inability to work including homelessness. Thanks again for your kind words.

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