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Washington Homicide by Abuse Law

The state of Washington has a very narrow category of homicide that is age-specific. Known as "homicide by abuse," a person can commit this crime when, under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to human life, but not necessarily creating a grave risk of death, a person causes the death of a vulnerable individual. Under the statute the defendants must have been previously engaged in a pattern or practice of assault on or torture of the vulnerable individual.

Who is a "Vulnerable Individual?"

Homicide by abuse applies to the death of vulnerable classes of persons such as children (under age 16), the elderly and/developmentally disabled. The crimes requires 3 (three) basic elements:

  1. A vulnerable person dies.
  2. Under circumstances of an extreme indifference to human life.
  3. The defendant has committed previous patterns of assault or torture upon the same victim.

What Are Some Examples Of Homicide By Abuse?

Examples of homicide by abuse include death caused by child abuse, or failure to provide basic necessities to an elderly person.

Is There A Statute Of Limitations On A Homicide By Abuse Charge?

A statute of limitations is a law which prohibits prosecutors from charging someone with a crime that was committed more than a specified number of years ago. However, not all crimes have a statute of limitation or time limit. Murder, specifically homicide by abuse, is one of those crimes.

Most states do not impose a time limit on murder charges. This means a murder charge can be filed even decades after the alleged killing has occurred.

Why Isn't There A Time Limit On Murder Charges?

There are several reasons why the law allows murder cases to be charged years later. Having no statute of limitations on murder allows the police to occasionally solve and prosecute "cold cases." This has become especially pertinent with the continuing advances in DNA evidence, which can pinpoint a killer many years after the crime.

The following table highlights the main provisions of Washington's homicide by abuse law. See also Voluntary Manslaughter, Involuntary Manslaughter, First Degree Murder Defenses, and First Degree Murder Penalties and Sentencing.

Code Sections

RCW 9A.32.055

What is Prohibited

See Above Definitions

Definition of "Dependant Adult"

A person who, because of physical or mental disability, or because of extreme advanced age, is dependent upon another person to provide the basic necessities of life.


Class A Felony , Maximum of life without the possibility of parole and a fine.

Civil Case

Possible Wrongful Death lawsuit

If you do find yourself facing a homicide by abuse charge in Washington, you may wish to contact a criminal defense attorney for assistance.

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