The Seattle Times recently reported on a Mount Vernon man charged with Assault in the First Degree in Mukilteo due to an incident at the Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival. The Seattle newspaper reported that the individual ran onto the stage with a knife and “attacked” a member of a band performing on stage. The Seattle Times article covering the legal matter raises several legal issues with respect to assault, attempted murder, and the admissibility of evidence.
Assault, ironically, is a complex crime. When most people think of “assault” they think of someone getting punched or slapped in the face. The truth is actually that assault comes in a variety of flavors.
The Washington State Assault statutes do not define assault. Rather, the legislature has purposefully left this to the courts. Courts have drawn upon the common law in order to supplement the statutes. Ultimately assault comes in three forms:
(1) The intentional touching of another person that is harmful or offensive; or
(2) An act done with intent to inflict bodily injury upon another, tending but failing to accomplish it, yet accompanied by the apparent present ability to inflict the bodily injury; or
(3) An act done with intent to create in another apprehension and fear of bodily injury that does create in another reasonable apprehension and imminent fear of bodily injury even though no injury was inflicted.
Thus, the “attack” the Seattle Times speaks of may very well be an assault regardless of whether the accused did made contact with the individual.
Assault in the First Degree
This is another perplexity. There are four degrees of assault. Here, assault in the first degree is an assault with the intent to inflict “great bodily harm,” and the person either uses a firearm or other “deadly weapon” or does in fact inflict great bodily harm. “Great bodily harm” means permanent disfigurement or impairment. “Deadly weapon” can mean anything that can produce death or serious bodily injury.
Therefore, here, as reported in the Seattle Times article, although the accused inflicted only minor injuries, the fact that the accused attacked the band member with a weapon may support a charge of assault in the first degree.
One can be guilty of what is called an “anticipatory” or “inchoate” crime–an attempt to commit a crime. Ultimately, one can be guilty of an attempted crime if it is shown the individual intended to commit a specific crime and took a “substantial step” toward the actually committing the crime. Here, the individual indicated that he should have been charged with murder because he intended to kill. Not good. The prosecutors may reconsider the charge based on that alone.
This is yet another reason why it is important to have a good defense attorney–attempted murder is a big time crime. That one statement, that one piece of evidence, that two second breath of air and mouth of words, if it is admissible, may end up costing the speaker many, many years in jail.
Statements to Police
When a person is subject to a “custodial interrogation,” statements made by such a person are not admissible unless the person has first been read his Miranda warnings. “Custody” includes an arrest, but it is not necessarily an arrest–it basically means that a reasonable person in the position of the accused would not feel free to leave. Interrogation means police questions or statements likely to elicit a response. If one is not in custody and/or is not subject to an interrogation, and makes statements, then such statements will be admissible notwithstanding an officer’s failure to give Miranda warnings. This rule has evolved from the 5th Amendment guarantee that “[n]o person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”
Here, the accused purportedly told officers that he “ought to be charged with murder because he intended to kill the singer-guitarist.” This is what the State will seek to use in order to prove the accused had the intent to inflict “great bodily harm” and is therefore guilty of First Degree Assault.
It will be important for the person who is the subject of this article to have an aggressive defense attorney that will fight to keep this statement out of court and undermine the ability of the Prosecution to prove First Degree Assault and possibly Attempted Murder.
The attorneys at Platt & Buescher have been providing legal representation for individuals accused of assault since 1990.