Washington is a state with surprisingly good laws covering self defense, and though the state lacks a codified stand-your-ground statute interpretation of case law has time and time again upheld citizens’ rights to hold their ground, and meet a threat with force wherever they happen to be so long as they are there lawfully.
Obviously, all of the other components of legitimate self-defense must be included and a person cannot be otherwise engaged in the commission of any crime or trespass.
Overall, though Washington is not technically a state-with-a stand your ground law it qualifies on every other consideration except name alone. Keep reading to get the full story on Washington’s self-defense laws.
What You Need to Know
- Washington State has no duty to retreat law or provision anywhere in the statutes covering self-defense.
- Citizens in Washington are allowed to meet any threatened use of force or actual use of force with defensive force of their own so long as the force is proportional and reasonable.
- Use of force in self-defense, including lethal force is also excusable when an assailant is committing certain forcible felonies, malicious trespass or other special circumstances.
As mentioned above, Washington State’s self-defense laws could be described as surprisingly good considering the political direction the state has been heading in for some years.
Citizens may use force and self-defense to stop the unlawful force, in progress or threatened, against themselves or someone else and they do this anywhere they have a legal, lawful right to be with no obligation to retreat.
Force may also be used to stop the commission, or imminent commission, of any forcible felony, “malicious trespass”, or to prevent a “mentally incompetent” person from hurting someone else. Make sure you brush up on exactly what the definitions are for “malicious trespass” and “mental incompetence” before you act on those presuppositions.
However, Washington is a state with the so-called “reasonable person” standard for judging the actions of a person who uses force in self-defense. What is determined to be reasonable, as always, is up to the interpretation and whims of a judge or jury, and depending on where you are in the state you can count on the jury being considerably against the notion of self-defense in general and the use of lethal force and self-defense in particular.
No additional restrictions.
Washington is a generally dependable state when it comes to the use of force and self-defense. The state has clearly codified laws on the matter and nowhere in these laws is there any stated duty or obligation to retreat, but neither is there any codified stand-your-ground provision.
Happily, there’s a considerable amount of case law that readily interprets and affirms a person’s right to stand their ground and meet force with force wherever they happen to be so long as they are their lawfully.
But this is all somewhat hampered by the reasonable person standard that will interpret their actions according to an individual judges or juries notions of what reasonable is under the circumstances.
Relevant Washington Use of Force Statutes
In this title unless a different meaning plainly is required:
(1) “Acted” includes, where relevant, omitted to act;
(2) “Actor” includes, where relevant, a person failing to act;
(3) “Benefit” is any gain or advantage to the beneficiary, including any gain or advantage to a third person pursuant to the desire or consent of the beneficiary;
(4)(a) “Bodily injury,” “physical injury,” or “bodily harm” means physical pain or injury, illness, or an impairment of physical condition;
(b) “Substantial bodily harm” means bodily injury which involves a temporary but substantial disfigurement, or which causes a temporary but substantial loss or impairment of the function of any bodily part or organ, or which causes a fracture of any bodily part;
(c) “Great bodily harm” means bodily injury which creates a probability of death, or which causes significant serious permanent disfigurement, or which causes a significant permanent loss or impairment of the function of any bodily part or organ;
(5) “Building,” in addition to its ordinary meaning, includes any dwelling, fenced area, vehicle, railway car, cargo container, or any other structure used for lodging of persons or for carrying on business therein, or for the use, sale, or deposit of goods; each unit of a building consisting of two or more units separately secured or occupied is a separate building;
(6) “Deadly weapon” means any explosive or loaded or unloaded firearm, and shall include any other weapon, device, instrument, article, or substance, including a “vehicle” as defined in this section, which, under the circumstances in which it is used, attempted to be used, or threatened to be used, is readily capable of causing death or substantial bodily harm;
(7) “Dwelling” means any building or structure, though movable or temporary, or a portion thereof, which is used or ordinarily used by a person for lodging;
(12) “Malice” and “maliciously” shall import an evil intent, wish, or design to vex, annoy, or injure another person. Malice may be inferred from an act done in willful disregard of the rights of another, or an act wrongfully done without just cause or excuse, or an act or omission of duty betraying a willful disregard of social duty;
(14) “Omission” means a failure to act;
(16) “Pecuniary benefit” means any gain or advantage in the form of money, property, commercial interest, or anything else the primary significance of which is economic gain;
(17) “Person,” “he or she,” and “actor” include any natural person and, where relevant, a corporation, joint stock association, or an unincorporated association;
(18) “Place of work” includes but is not limited to all the lands and other real property of a farm or ranch in the case of an actor who owns, operates, or is employed to work on such a farm or ranch;
(21) “Projectile stun gun” means an electronic device that projects wired probes attached to the device that emit an electrical charge and that is designed and primarily employed to incapacitate a person or animal;
(22) “Property” means anything of value, whether tangible or intangible, real or personal;
(26) “Strangulation” means to compress a person’s neck, thereby obstructing the person’s blood flow or ability to breathe, or doing so with the intent to obstruct the person’s blood flow or ability to breathe;
(27) “Suffocation” means to block or impair a person’s intake of air at the nose and mouth, whether by smothering or other means, with the intent to obstruct the person’s ability to breathe;
(28) “Threat” means to communicate, directly or indirectly the intent:
(a) To cause bodily injury in the future to the person threatened or to any other person; or
(b) To cause physical damage to the property of a person other than the actor; or
(c) To subject the person threatened or any other person to physical confinement or restraint; or
(d) To accuse any person of a crime or cause criminal charges to be instituted against any person; or
(e) To expose a secret or publicize an asserted fact, whether true or false, tending to subject any person to hatred, contempt, or ridicule; or
(f) To reveal any information sought to be concealed by the person threatened; or
(g) To testify or provide information or withhold testimony or information with respect to another’s legal claim or defense; or
(h) To take wrongful action as an official against anyone or anything, or wrongfully withhold official action, or cause such action or withholding; or
(i) To bring about or continue a strike, boycott, or other similar collective action to obtain property which is not demanded or received for the benefit of the group which the actor purports to represent; or
(j) To do any other act which is intended to harm substantially the person threatened or another with respect to his or her health, safety, business, financial condition, or personal relationships;
(29) “Vehicle” means a “motor vehicle” as defined in the vehicle and traffic laws, any aircraft, or any vessel equipped for propulsion by mechanical means or by sail;
(30) Words in the present tense shall include the future tense; and in the masculine shall include the feminine and neuter genders; and in the singular shall include the plural; and in the plural shall include the singular.
RCW 9A.16.010 Definitions.
In this chapter, unless a different meaning is plainly required:
(1) “Necessary” means that no reasonably effective alternative to the use of force appeared to exist and that the amount of force used was reasonable to effect the lawful purpose intended.
(2) “Deadly force” means the intentional application of force through the use of firearms or any other means reasonably likely to cause death or serious physical injury.
RCW 9A.16.020 Use of force—When lawful.
The use, attempt, or offer to use force upon or toward the person of another is not unlawful in the following cases:
(1) Whenever necessarily used by a public officer in the performance of a legal duty, or a person assisting the officer and acting under the officer’s direction;
(2) Whenever necessarily used by a person arresting one who has committed a felony and delivering him or her to a public officer competent to receive him or her into custody;
(3) Whenever used by a party about to be injured, or by another lawfully aiding him or her, in preventing or attempting to prevent an offense against his or her person, or a malicious trespass, or other malicious interference with real or personal property lawfully in his or her possession, in case the force is not more than is necessary;
(4) Whenever reasonably used by a person to detain someone who enters or remains unlawfully in a building or on real property lawfully in the possession of such person, so long as such detention is reasonable in duration and manner to investigate the reason for the detained person’s presence on the premises, and so long as the premises in question did not reasonably appear to be intended to be open to members of the public;
(5) Whenever used by a carrier of passengers or the carrier’s authorized agent or servant, or other person assisting them at their request in expelling from a carriage, railway car, vessel, or other vehicle, a passenger who refuses to obey a lawful and reasonable regulation prescribed for the conduct of passengers, if such vehicle has first been stopped and the force used is not more than is necessary to expel the offender with reasonable regard to the offender’s personal safety;
(6) Whenever used by any person to prevent a mentally ill, mentally incompetent, or mentally disabled person from committing an act dangerous to any person, or in enforcing necessary restraint for the protection or restoration to health of the person, during such period only as is necessary to obtain legal authority for the restraint or custody of the person.
9A.16.030 Homicide—When excusable.
Homicide is excusable when committed by accident or misfortune in doing any lawful act by lawful means, without criminal negligence, or without any unlawful intent.
9A.16.050 Homicide—By other person—When justifiable.
Homicide is also justifiable when committed either:
(1) In the lawful defense of the slayer, or his or her husband, wife, parent, child, brother, or sister, or of any other person in his or her presence or company, when there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design on the part of the person slain to commit a felony or to do some great personal injury to the slayer or to any such person, and there is imminent danger of such design being accomplished; or
(2) In the actual resistance of an attempt to commit a felony upon the slayer, in his or her presence, or upon or in a dwelling, or other place of abode, in which he or she is.
9A.16.110 Defending against violent crime—Reimbursement.
(1) 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.
(2) When a person charged with a crime listed in subsection (1) of this section is found not guilty by reason of self-defense, the state of Washington shall reimburse the defendant for all reasonable costs, including loss of time, legal fees incurred, and other expenses involved in his or her defense. This reimbursement is not an independent cause of action. To award these reasonable costs the trier of fact must find that the defendant’s claim of self-defense was sustained by a preponderance of the evidence. If the trier of fact makes a determination of self-defense, the judge shall determine the amount of the award.
(3) Notwithstanding a finding that a defendant’s actions were justified by self-defense, if the trier of fact also determines that the defendant was engaged in criminal conduct substantially related to the events giving rise to the charges filed against the defendant the judge may deny or reduce the amount of the award. In determining the amount of the award, the judge shall also consider the seriousness of the initial criminal conduct.
Nothing in this section precludes the legislature from using the sundry claims process to grant an award where none was granted under this section or to grant a higher award than one granted under this section.
(4) Whenever the issue of self-defense under this section is decided by a judge, the judge shall consider the same questions as must be answered in the special verdict under subsection (4) [(5)] of this section.
(5) Whenever the issue of self-defense under this section has been submitted to a jury, and the jury has found the defendant not guilty, the court shall instruct the jury to return a special verdict in substantially the following form:
answer yes or no
Was the finding of not guilty based upon self-defense?
. . . . .
If your answer to question 1 is no, do not answer the remaining question.
If your answer to question 1 is yes, was the defendant:
Protecting himself or herself?
. . . . .
Protecting his or her family?
. . . . .
Protecting his or her property?
. . . . .
Coming to the aid of another who was in imminent danger of a heinous crime?
. . . . .
Coming to the aid of another who was the victim of a heinous crime?
. . . . .
Engaged in criminal conduct substantially related to the events giving rise to the crime with which the defendant is charged?