Assault of a Child

If you are charged with assault of a child, it is important that you contact a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A conviction can have serious, life-altering consequences.

At The Marshall Defense Firm, we have defended many persons accused of assaulting children and understand that whenever children are involved, the emotions of prosecutors, juries, and even judges can easily be inflamed. We have learned how to ease those emotions.

We also know how to deal with the evidence against the accused.

Usually the child said to have been assaulted is a witness. The child will have been interviewed during the police investigation and will probably testify for the prosecution at trial. The defense attorney needs to understand the frailties of children as witnesses and to know the special body of law on using their statements as evidence.

Interviewing a child about a crime they may have suffered is a difficult thing to do, even for persons who have received specialized training. Every interviewer suffers from what psychologists call “confirmation bias”—the natural tendency to look for information that supports an accusation and to overlook information that undercuts it. Even the best-intentioned interviewers sometimes introduce or suggest facts which a child adopts and reports as things that happened—even though they didn’t. These false statements by a child can even become a genuine, but false, memory; when that happens, the child will repeat the statements, with sincerity, even when asked non-leading questions.

At The Marshall Defense Firm, we understand how false memories are formed; we’ve studied the science, and we keep up to date on new developments in it. We know the best practices in child interviewing, and we notice when they have not been followed in a police investigation. We often present at trial leading experts in forensic interviewing and psychology to help the jury understand the problems with the child’s statements in the case at trial.

The Law

Under Washington law, a person who is at least eighteen years old can be found guilty of Assault of a Child if they physically harm a child who is thirteen years old or younger. The specific degree of the crime (i.e. first, second, or third) depends on the circumstances surrounding the assault, the intent of the person, and the extent of the injury that results.

With regard to the injury, it is important to understand what the varying levels of bodily harm mean, as this can impact the severity of the charge. “Bodily harm” includes “physical pain or injury, illness, or an impairment of physical condition.” “Substantial bodily harm” is more serious and means “injury which involves a temporary but substantial disfigurement, or which causes a temporary but substantial loss or impairment of the function of any bodily part or organ, or which causes a fracture of any bodily part. “Great bodily harm” is the most severe type of injury and includes “injury which creates a probability of death, or which causes significant serious permanent disfigurement, or which causes a significant permanent loss or impairment of the function of any bodily part or organ.”

Assault of a Child in the First Degree

A person is guilty of Assault of a Child in the First Degree if they:

  1. With intent to inflict great bodily harm:
    • Assault the child with a firearm or other deadly weapon or by any means likely to produce great bodily harm or death; or
    • Expose the child to poison, HIV, or any other harmful substance; or
    • Assault the child and inflict great bodily harm; or
  2. Intentionally assault the child and either:
    • Recklessly inflict great bodily harm; or
    • Cause substantial bodily harm after having previously engaged in a pattern or practice of
      • (i) assault that caused the child bodily harm that is greater than brief physical pain or minor temporary marks, or
      • (ii) causing the child physical pain or agony that is equivalent to that produced by torture.

Assault of a Child in the Second Degree

A person is guilty of Assault of a Child in the Second Degree if they:

  • Intentionally assault a child and recklessly inflict substantial bodily harm; or
  • Intentionally and unlawfully cause substantial bodily harm to an unborn child seen or felt moving in utero by intentionally and unlawfully inflicting injury upon the mother; or
  • Assault a child with a deadly weapon; or
  • With intent to inflict bodily harm, administer the child poison or another harmful substance; or
  • With intent to commit a felony, assault a child; or
  • Knowingly inflict bodily harm which by design causes such pain or agony as to be the equivalent of that produced by torture; or
  • Assault a child by strangulation or suffocation.
  • Intentionally assault the child and cause bodily harm that is greater than brief physical pain or minor temporary marks after previously engaging in a pattern or practice of either
    • (1) assaulting the child and causing bodily harm that is greater than brief pain or minor temporary marks, or
    • (2) causing the child physical pain or agony that is equivalent to that produced by torture.

Assault of a Child in the Third Degree

A person is guilty of Assault of a Child in the Third Degree if with criminal negligence they:

  • Cause bodily harm to another person by means of a weapon or other instrument likely to produce bodily harm; or
  • Cause bodily harm accompanied by substantial pain that extends for a period sufficient to cause considerable suffering.

A person acts with criminal negligence if they “fail to be aware of a substantial risk that a wrongful act may occur” and their failure in this regard “constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise in the same situation.”

The Consequences of a Conviction

Assault of a child in the first degree is a Class A felony, which is punishable by up to life in prison and a fine of $50,000.

Assault of a child in the second degree is a Class B felony, which is punishable by up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.

Assault of a child in the third degree is a class C felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Keep in mind that these are the maximum penalties for a conviction, and few offenders receive the maximum sentence. Offenders usually receive a sentence within the Standard Sentencing Range established by Washington law. The Standard Sentencing Range in each case depends on the number of counts (criminal incidents) of which the accused is found guilty, the degree of assault in those counts, and the offender’s prior criminal record.

For example, a person with no prior criminal record would have a Standard Sentencing Range of 93-123 months in custody if found guilty of one count of assault of a child in the first degree, 31-41 months for a second-degree offense, and 1-3 months for a third-degree offense.

Penalties can be increased if the prosecutor charges and proves any aggravating factor (e.g. use of a dangerous weapon) set forth in the law.

How We Will Tackle Your Defense

Facing a charge of Assault of a Child is daunting. You need to know that your defense is in the right hands. The Marshall Defense Firm has the knowledge, skill, and expertise to present the strongest defense possible.

Responding to the child’s statements is key.

Often there is medical evidence of injury. The prosecution may present a physician’s opinion that the particulars of the injury show it was caused by an assault. A physician may have diagnosed the injury as “non-accidental.” Often the prosecution’s physician is certified in “child abuse medicine” and works on a child abuse medical team at a children’s hospital.

When we face a physician for the prosecution, we look for a physician for the defense. It is often a difficult search because many physicians absolutely refuse to testify for anyone accused of child abuse. We have strong connections around the country, though, and good relationships with many outstanding physicians who share our desire that the accused get a fair chance.

If you were arrested, we will look at the behavior of the police at the time of your arrest. Did they violate the Fourth Amendment by making an arrest without probable cause or by conducting an unreasonable search? If you were questioned, did the police violate Fifth Amendment rules against coercive interrogation? Did they deny you the Sixth Amendment right to an attorney?

If evidence against you has been gathered by unconstitutional means, that evidence may be inadmissible at trial. We will file the motions needed to keep that evidence out of trial.

Finally, if you wish to take the case to trial, the lawyers of The Marshall Defense Firm are outstanding trial attorneys. We are often invited to teach trial skills to other lawyers. From selecting a jury to closing arguments, our knowledge of trial rules and tactics runs deep, and we will use it to fight for you every step of the way.

What it’s Like to Have The Marshall Defense Firm in Your Corner

Respect and compassion are the foundation of our work. We take time to get to know you and your case. It’s where our fierce advocacy for you begins.

Then there’s our experience. For decades we have defended special cases like Assault of a Child. From that and our on-going study of the law, medicine, and psychology involved in these cases, we have exceptional skill.

And we pool that skill. We work as a team. We know that no one lawyer, no matter how brilliant, will have all the good ideas for your case.

Our final ingredient is relentless investigation and preparation. When we step into court to defend you, we are ready to do it well.

If you or a loved one needs services like ours, contact us at 206.202.1633 or solutions@marshalldefense.com for an appointment.