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Can I use a knife for self defense if someone older and bigger is attacking me inside a house so I can't escape? I can't fight

Kent, WA |

I am in Washington state I have a legal pocket knife that I can legally carry around. If the person hits me first can I use my knife to protect myself?

Attorney Answers 6


Yes, generally speaking you have the right to protect yourself with a knife if there is no other lesser force you can use to protect yourself from an assault. You cannot use a knife (or any force, really) in retaliation for a past assault--it is only lawful to use force to defend against an assault that is happening or is imminent.
It would be far better to avoid the situation. If you are charged with a crime of assaulting somebody with a knife, you may have a valid defense, but you may also spend some time in jail before you can make your argument to the jury or judge.
Obviously, a knife is not a magical weapon that can protect you from a larger person who knows how to fight. As practical advice, you should do whatever you can to avoid physical violence and seek out help from the authorities before you use any force.
If you cannot do anything else, then of course, protect yourself.

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Under the facts you indicate in the title of the question, yes, you may legally use your knife to protect yourself.

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The law of Self-Defense is complicated, but in brief, RCW 9A.16.020 permits a person to use force in self-defense to defend themselves or another person who is about to be injured. However, the use of force cannot be more than is necessary to defend yourself or the other person. In other words, it must be a proportionate response and merely be assaulted in minimal way does not provide a basis for assaulting the attacker. And one cannot claim self-defense if they provoked or initiated the assault to begin with. Further, while Washington does NOT employ the so-called "stand your ground" rule made famous by the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, there is no duty for a person to retreat rather than use force in self defense as long as the defendant had a legal right to be in the place where force was used.

Please note that this is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. This post represents only the poster's opinion. You should speak to an attorney for further information. The poster is licensed only in the State of Washington. For more information about our law firm and services, please visit my website at I hope this post was helpful to you. Thank you.

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How about living somewhere else so that this will not become an issue in the future. Or get an order of protection. This way you do not have to cut or stab anyone.

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The heart of self defense in Washington State is reasonableness. If a jury thought your action of using the knife was reasonably necessary to protect yourself then it can be a complete defense to a charge of assault.

Anytime you start talking about whether something is "reasonable" that means that you may have to go to trial. In the context of your question, this means that you could be sitting in jail while waiting for trial. If the jury finds that you were not reasonable or that you started the confrontation then self defense is not available.

Craig Cahoon The Cahoon Law Office, PLLC 206-795-1779

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Yes. Self defense involves the use of force "in proportion to" an imminent threat. If he is in the process of hitting you and you are scared for your life or have a fear of imminent grave bodily injury, you may use a knife only if you feel your life is in danger. Therefore, this is the caveat: you must feel there will be imminent grave bodily injury OR MORE in order for you to use a knife. Thus,the answer to your question may also be NO. Why? Because a mere handslap on your face is it not in proportion to your use of a knife.

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