Today in the Findley & Rogers Law Blog, we’re talking about Washington State self-defense laws, specifically Washington State self-defense gun laws and the legal Do’s and Don’ts of using deadly force in self-defense.
Join us for a short review of the law so that you can better understand what your rights are—and are not—if you ever have to use force in self-defense.
A Common Fear: Is the Law Your Enemy?
It’s a nightmare scenario that many of us have thought about: You’re minding your own business at home or somewhere else, when suddenly you are attacked by some assailant. In the course of defending yourself, your property, or others, you accidentally break the law. When all is said and done, you end up being the one to go to prison.
This is a common fear. Most ordinary folks don’t know the law, but they know they can get in a lot of trouble if they break the law. And most people know that physical violence is usually against the law. But what about self-defense?
This is why it’s very important to know Washington State self-defense laws before you have to defend yourself. By understanding these laws, you will understand what actions are legal, and what you must do or not do to protect yourself from legal jeopardy when using force in self-defense.
You May Use Force in Self-Defense
The good news is that Washington State self-defense laws are designed to help you in situations where you are facing a physical threat from somebody else. Ordinarily, physical violence against others is illegal. And if you use deadly force, that’s usually a felony. But in the case of self-defense, it can be an acceptable legal defense if you are charged with a crime. It can also be a factor in helping prosecutors decide whether to charge you with a crime in the first place.
To put it as clearly as we can: Physical violence can potentially be legal when used in self-defense.
We know that “can potentially be legal” is not as clear as you would like. We’ll discuss the details of Washington State self-defense laws and explain when it is legal to use force and when it isn’t. We’ll also examine different kinds of force and different scenarios, including deadly force and Washington State self-defense gun laws.
What Kinds of Threats May You Lawfully Use Force Against?
Washington State self-defense laws state that you may use physical force to defend yourself if:
- You are currently being physically attacked.
- You are facing the imminent threat of physical attack.
- You reasonably believe that you are facing the imminent threat of physical attack.
- You may NOT use physical force to defend against a verbal or emotional attack.
- You may NOT use physical force against a “financial” attack, such as identity theft.
Can You Use Force to Defend Others? What About Defending Your Property?
Washington State self-defense laws are pretty generous in this regard. Generally speaking, you may use force to defend others (including total strangers) or your property in the same circumstances when you may use force to defend yourself.
There is one restriction: You must be in a place that you are legally allowed to be, such as home, work, or your vehicle. If you are in a place unlawfully, then you cannot use force in self-defense.
The Law Requires You to Use the Minimum Amount of Force Necessary
In this article, we’re specifically looking at Washington State self-defense gun laws, but let’s take a moment to consider that using deadly force is rarely necessary.
You must understand that Washington State self-defense laws require you to use the minimum amount of force that is reasonable given the situation. In simple terms, what this means is that you can’t shoot somebody if all they’re going to do is push you or shove you without causing grievous harm.
Fights can happen. Words are exchanged, tensions flare, and sometimes it comes to blows. In these situations, you can defend yourself (or others, or your property), but only using the minimum force necessary to protect against the threat. If you use excessive force, your self-defense argument will probably not hold up in court.
When Is Deadly Force Allowed in Self-Defense?
The scenarios most people have in mind are “deadly force” scenarios—specifically, scenarios where you use your gun in self-defense. “Deadly force” isn’t limited to guns: It can include any force which can reasonably cause death or serious bodily harm. It can also happen with knives, automobiles, baseball bats, and many other objects.
Washington State self-defense laws state that:
- You may only use deadly force when you are facing the imminent threat of death or grievous bodily injury. (This also applies to using deadly force in the defense of others.)
Additionally, you must use the minimum reasonable force, as discussed above. In many situations, such as a home invasion, deadly force can be a reasonable amount of force, because the situation happens very quickly and there are many unknowns. But if you do find yourself in a situation where you are facing grievous harm or death from an attacker, yet can reasonably use a lesser degree of force to neutralize the threat, then Washington State self-defense laws require you to limit your use of force accordingly.
The window for using deadly force closes as soon as the reasonable threat of death or severe harm ends. For instance, if someone tries to run you over with a car, but then they get out of the car and are merely yelling at you, it would likely be illegal to shoot them at that point.
No Duty to Retreat / Stand Your Ground / Castle Doctrine
Washington State self-defense laws state that you have no duty to retreat from a violent situation. What this means is that, if you, your property, or other people are facing the threat of grievous injury or death, and you have the option of escaping the situation, you are not required to do so. You are allowed to defend yourself by “standing your ground,” and that includes the use of deadly force.
Washington State self-defense gun laws, and the state courts, have repeatedly upheld this right.
Reimbursement for Legal Costs
Here’s a bonus: If you are charged with a crime for using force in self-defense and are found not guilty by reason of self-defense, Washington State self-defense laws entitle you to reimbursement for your costs related to the charge.
Know Your Rights Before You Fire
Washington State self-defense laws are not perfect, but they are generally designed to help you escape legal jeopardy in situations of self-defense.
Defending your home is a serious responsibility. If you keep firearms in your home for self-defense or plan on doing so, it would be a very good idea for you to take a class in your community on using firearms in self-defense. These classes are very practical and will help you better understand Washington State self-defense gun laws, and your rights and responsibilities.
We hope this short look at Washington State self-defense laws has been a helpful starting point. Washington State self-defense gun laws can be intimidating if you don’t know them, but, once you understand your rights, the law becomes your ally.
Lost Your Gun Rights? Findley & Rogers Can Help
People often lose their gun rights for small crimes or other reasons. They don’t realize that, in most cases, they can get their gun rights back. But it doesn’t happen automatically: You have to petition the court.
If you or a friend or family member have lost your gun rights, Findley & Rogers can help you cut through the red tape to restore your gun rights. We also specialize in other firearm rights issues, such as NICS appeals and CPL licensure.
Contact us today for a free consultation to learn about your options!