Under the law, people are generally permitted to defend themselves when threatened, but self-defense laws vary with each jurisdiction. For example, some states have "stand your ground laws" while others require a person to retreat before using force. There are also some states that combine these two ideas by following the "castle doctrine," where a person doesn't need to retreat in their own home or place of business. Regardless of which of these approaches a jurisdiction follows, nearly all self-defense laws require that any force used be proportionate to the harm that was feared.
In order to better understand Washington's self-defense laws, it's helpful to define a few related terms. For purposes of self-defense, necessary means that there was no other reasonably effective alternative to the use of force and that the amount of force used was reasonable. Deadly force is defined as using a firearm or any other means that is likely to cause serious physical injury or death.
Washington Self-Defense Laws at a Glance
When you have a legal question, you usually want a quick and straightforward answer. Unfortunately legal questions rarely have simple answers and, while reading the actual language of a law is important, it's often written in legal jargon that can take time to understand. For this reason, it's helpful to read a summary of the law in plain English. The following table highlights key provisions in Washington self-defense laws and provides links to relevant statutes.
Washington Revised Code:
|Lawful Use of Force
The use of force is lawful when used out of necessity by:
- a public officer in performance of a legal duty or a person assisting the officer under their direction;
- a person arresting someone who's committed a felony and delivering them to police custody;
- a person who's about to be injured in preventing an offense against them or a malicious trespass;
- a property owner to detain someone who enters or stays on their property;
- a carrier of passengers to expel a passenger who refuses to obey applicable regulations; or
- a person to prevent a mentally ill, mentally incompetent, or mentally disabled individual from committing a dangerous act.
A homicide is excusable if it's committed by accident while in the course a lawful act, as long as there's no criminal negligence or any unlawful intent.
A homicide is justifiable if it's done:
- In lawful defense of yourself, your spouse, parent, child, sibling, or other person in your presence when it's reasonable to assume that the person you've killed was planning to commit a felony or cause great personal injury to you or the others mentioned above; or
- While resisting someone committing a felony upon you, in your presence, or upon a home you're in.
Washington Revised Code:
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Washington Self-Defense Laws: Related Resources
If you'd like to read additional information and resources related to this topic, you can visit the links listed below.
Questions About Washington Self-Defense Laws? Contact a Lawyer
There are times when the use of force, even when deadly, is excusable or justifiable. If you've been charged with killing or seriously injuring someone, it's in your best interest to speak with a local criminal defense attorney who can review the facts of your case and determine if Washington self-defense laws apply.