Most criminal charges have different degrees of potential charges. First-degree charges are the most severe and have the harshest sentencing guidelines. The higher the number is the less severe the charge is.
According to the Washington State Legislature, an assault charge in the state can be in the first, second, third or fourth degree. The differences between each degree are not always easy to understand.
A first-degree assault requires there to be the intent to cause serious physical harm to another person. It usually involves a deadly weapon but may also just use force that could cause great harm. This level of charges also applies if there was a use of poison or a person tries to infect someone who is a vulnerable adult or a minor with HIV.
A second-degree assault may also cause physical harm, but not to the extent of that under the first-degree category. It may involve a deadly weapon or poison. It also includes torture, suffocation and strangulation. This category also includes harming a pregnant woman and causing harm to the baby.
A third-degree assault involves any situation that does not fall under a first or second degree category. It includes the assault of certain people, such as a firefighter, law enforcement officer, transit operator or school bus driver. It also involves any harm caused during the execution of a court order. It may involve weapons.
A fourth-degree assault is one that falls under none of the other categories.
The prosecutor will decide which category to charge you under. It is important to understand the degrees as this will help you to shape your defense.