Washington self-defense is an affirmative defense. A person may lawfully use force when they are about to be injured to prevent or try to prevent an offense against their person, when the force used is not more than necessary. RCW 9A.16.020(3). Force is necessary when there does not appear to be a reasonably effective alternative and the force used is reasonable to the lawful purpose. RCW 9A.16.010(1). A juvenile recently appealed his adjudication of guilt of second degree assault, claiming the state failed to disprove he acted in self-defense.
The appeals court’s unpublished opinion stated the juvenile got into a verbal altercation at school with another juvenile, identified by the appeals court’s opinion, as “J.S.” The juvenile called the other student a homophobic slur. J.S. filed an incident report at the office.
They had a second altercation in the courtyard later that day. The juvenile again called the other student a homophobic slur. The other student advanced toward the juvenile. The juvenile tried to walk away. The juvenile started recording on his phone. The juvenile extended his arm as the other student approached, and the other student slapped him. They both went to the ground. The other student was on top and started hitting the juvenile. The other student did not have or threaten to use a weapon, but the juvenile pulled a knife from his pocket and stabbed the other student six times in eight seconds. The juvenile had not responded by pushing or hitting back, but just stabbed the other student. The two did not really know each other and had not spoken before the altercations.
The doctor who examined the other student said that one of the stab wounds to the other student’s neck created a probability of death.
The juvenile only had minor injuries. About 30 minutes after the incident, he posted a photo of himself with a caption stating he was “fine” and “[homophobic slur] can’t hit hard.”
The juvenile admitted to a detective he stabbed the other student, but said it was self-defense.
The juvenile was charged with assault in the first degree. The juvenile court concluded he did not intend to inflict great bodily harm and adjudicated him guilty of assault in the second degree. The court concluded the state had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the juvenile was not acting in self-defense. The court concluded a reasonable person in the courtyard with teachers around would not believe the situation would escalate to an altercation that was life-threatening or where he would suffer great personal injury.
The juvenile was sentenced to 15 to 36 weeks in a rehabilitation facility.
He appealed, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support the adjudication of guilt and the court’s findings did not support its conclusion the state had disproved self-defense.
When a defendant properly raises self-defense, the state must prove its absence beyond a reasonable doubt. Courts use both an objective and subjective test and consider what a reasonable person would do in the circumstances. The court considers the defendant’s acts in light of what he knew at the time. The court also considers what a reasonable person would do in the same situation. Thus, a person acting in self-defense may use the degree of force a reasonably prudent person would consider necessary under the circumstances as they appeared to the defendant. To use deadly force, a defendant must reasonably believe he faces a threat of great personal injury or death. State v. Walden.
The juvenile did not challenge any specific factual finding, but argued they did not support the court’s conclusion.
The appeals court noted that the findings showed a substantial difference in the sizes of the two boys. According to the appeals court’s opinion, the juvenile weighed about 108 pounds, while J.S. was 6’3” and weighed about 309 pounds. The appeals court also pointed out, however, that the incident occurred in the courtyard of the school at about fifth period. The appeals court concluded it could reasonably be inferred that there were teachers in the area to stop the fight. In fact, a teacher did actually stop the altercation. The trial court also found J.S. did not threaten to use a weapon and was not armed. The juvenile did not really know J.S. and therefore did not have any knowledge of any violent tendencies. Furthermore, the juvenile did not try to defend himself in any other way before resorting to deadly force. Additionally, the juvenile admitted he stabbed J.S. in the neck. He also posted a photo showing he was not injured and stating the other student “can’t hit hard.”
The appeals court concluded a reasonable person under the circumstances would not reasonably believe the incident would escalate to an altercation resulting in great personal injury or a threat to his life. The appeals court concluded the juvenile’s use of a knife was more force than reasonably necessary. The trial court’s findings supported its conclusion the state had disproven self-defense.
The juvenile argued the trial court failed to consider the facts and circumstances from his perspective to determine if his actions were reasonable, but the appeals court rejected this argument, concluding the courts findings and conclusions showed it had considered the facts and circumstances from the juvenile’s perspective.
The juvenile also argued the trial court erred in penalizing him for having the knife and concluding he should have tried other methods. The appeals court also rejected this argument, noting the force used is limited to what is necessary. The appeals court reiterated that the findings supported the court’s conclusion a reasonable person in the juvenile’s shoes would not have reasonably believed the fight would become life-threatening or result in great personal injury.
The appeals court determined the state presented sufficient evidence to support the adjudication of guilt for second degree assault and affirmed the adjudication.
If your child is facing charges for a schoolyard fight or similar incident, a skilled Washington juvenile defense attorney can fight for their rights. Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to set up a consultation.