Self-defense law in Washington after Harris firearm incident

Katie R. Ochoa

An intimidating look at a .45 caliber handgun.

An intimidating look at a .45 caliber handgun.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

After shooting at a suspected car thief on Monday, Pierce County Council candidate Josh Harris has not been arrested or charged by police. Harris said that he fired shots in self-defense at the man in the vehicle because he tried to run him over.

Harris, who has a concealed weapon permit, fired at least four rounds from a 9mm handgun at the driver, saying he only did so “to protect my life.”

Harris filed in May to run as a Republican for the Pierce County Council District 7 seat to represent Gig Harbor and Key Peninsulas, Fox Island, and parts of north and west Tacoma, according to previous News Tribune reporting.

Campaign.jpg
A Tacoma construction company owner, Josh Harris, has filed for Pierce County Council race, after bailing out three Tacoma officers criminally charged for their involvement with Manuel Ellis’ death.  Tim Pierson Photography Courtesy of Josh Harris

The man that Harris shot was taken into custody on Tuesday and is still in the hospital, where he is being treated for wounds. Once released, he will be arrested for possession of a stolen vehicle and assault.

Police are investigating the incident, but Harris told the News Tribune that it would not affect his candidacy.

Harris is currently in no legal jeopardy because he claims he was protecting himself, as previously reported by the Tribune. Here are Washington’s self-defense laws and when you can protect yourself:

Lawful use of force

Washington law states that lawful use of force — including a firearm — can be used for protection out of necessity when a person or their property is under attack or if they’re assisting someone else who is in danger of a violent crime. A violent crime is an assault, kidnapping, rape, burglary, or any other crime defined by Washington code.

The lawful use of force is also permitted when detaining someone who has entered or is staying on private property, by a public transport driver if someone refuses to obey regulations, and to prevent disabled individuals from committing a dangerous act.

Excusable and justifiable homicide

Homicide is excusable in Washington when “committed by accident or misfortune” when doing a lawful act, such as protecting yourself. The state also classifies that homicide is justifiable when defending yourself, family, or other people in your presence when you have justifiable reason to suspect the person killed had planned to commit a felony to you or people around you.

Homicide is also classified as justifiable by the state when resisting someone attempting to commit a felony on you or upon the home you are in.

Stand-your-ground law

Washington is a stand-your-ground state, which means citizens have legal justification not to retreat but to instead defend themselves, others, or their property. If a person has the right to be in an area and feels justifiably under threat, Washington law has no obligation to back off.

But the force used must also be reasonable. Unless the person defending themselves has reason to believe that they or someone they know is about to be attacked, they cannot attack another person and claim self-defense.

This story was originally published June 2, 2022 2:45 PM.

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Shaun Goodwin is a service journalism reporter at the Idaho Statesman. If you like stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a subscription to our newspaper.
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