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What Are the Rules on Self Defense in Washington?

Nicholas George Law Firm PLLC Nov. 21, 2023

Some states have adopted a legal principle known as the “duty to retreat.” What this means is that, if you are threatened by someone else, your first reaction should be to flee to a safe haven, not to fight back. Other states rely on a principle known as “the castle doctrine,” as in “your home is your castle” and you have a right to defend it. In this view, wherever you have a legal right to be—in your home, your car, or your office—you may be able to use force to defend yourself and your property. 

In Washington State, the castle doctrine is recognized, as is another standard known as “stand your ground.” The “stand your ground” standard allows you to defend yourself wherever you are threatened—and even to come to the defense of others whom you feel are threatened. Even with these standards in place, however, no one has the freedom to use deadly force or non-proportionate force when it is not necessary, and concealed carry is also illegal unless one obtains a permit to have a weapon on their person.  

When it comes to the use of force in defending yourself, state courts and law enforcement officials apply the standard of “what would a reasonable person do” in the circumstance. That leaves a lot of ground for interpretation should you be charged with assault or some other crime when you feel you were just defending yourself, your family, or even strangers on the street from imminent harm. 

If you have been charged with a crime in or around Kennewick, Washington, and you believe you acted in self-defense, contact the Nicholas George Law Firm PLLC to explore your options. Attorney Nicholas George will use his three-decades-plus experience in criminal defense to fight for the best possible outcome in your case. In addition to Kennewick, Attorney Nicholas George also defends the rights of clients throughout Walla Walla, Spokane, Benton County, and Franklin County.  

What Is Self-Defense?

Self-defense refers to actions taken when you are faced with an imminent threat of harm. Threatening you harm at some point in the future or hurling offensive language at you does not imply ‘imminent threat.’ Additionally, consider this example: if you’re in an argument over drinks at a bar and the patron next to you throws his beer in your face, and then you strike him with a beer mug, that could be considered retaliatory and not ‘self-defense.’ The reason is that the threat has passed. If the other patron had threatened further harm, self-defense might apply. 

An imminent threat must also be deemed to be reasonable using the “reasonable person” standard mentioned earlier. If someone threatens you with physical harm but cannot do so because of a physical or other limitation, then the threat cannot be considered reasonable and any action you take would typically not be considered self-defense.  

In any self-defense action, you must only apply as much force as is necessary to prevent imminent harm coming your way. In other words, if someone merely shoves you during an argument, you can’t react by punching them repeatedly. You would have to take a more reasonable and measured approach. 

As you can see, self-defense as a defense to actions you take can become a bit of a gray area legally. You’ll need the guidance of a skilled lawyer on your side in these kinds of situations. 

The Castle Doctrine in Washington

As stated earlier, Washington is a “stand your ground state” but its legal code also recognizes, without calling it as such, the principle of “the castle doctrine.” Section 9A.16.110 of the Revised Code states:  

“No person in the state shall be placed in legal jeopardy of any kind whatsoever for protecting by any reasonable means necessary, himself or herself, his or her family, or his or her real or personal property, or for coming to the aid of another who is in imminent danger of or the victim of assault, robbery, kidnapping, arson, burglary, rape, murder, or any other violent crime as defined in RCW 9.94A.030.” 

Notice again the use of the word “reasonable,” and notice also that the section expands your right to come to the aid of others who are in “imminent danger.” This means you could be walking down the sidewalk and observe another person being victimized, and you can come to their aid and use “any reasonable means necessary” to help that person and prevent harm from happening. 

Strong and Reliable Legal Representation

If you believe you’ve acted in self-defense and are nonetheless being investigated or charged with a crime in or around Kennewick, or anywhere in Washington, contact the Nicholas George Law Firm PLLC immediately. Attorney Nicholas George will listen to your story, assess the circumstances of what happened, and develop a strategy to protect your rights. 

He will bring your side of the story to prosecutors to get the charge lessened or dropped entirely. If matters do end up in court, he will strive tirelessly for a positive outcome. Attorney Nicholas George will stand by you, every step of the way.