Is There Really A Mutual Combat Law in Washington?

Street fighting is something that should be avoided if possible. Usually even if you are in the right and have the ability to win a physical altercation, there is still a good chance you could wind up in a police cell or be sued. In the olden days this was not the case. Minor Grievances and perceived sleight of characters were settled in what was known as mutual combat. The fight would typically be fisticuffs between two consenting participants with one winner declared when the other fighter gave in or was unable to continue.

People often mourn the loss of the mutual combat law in the United States. However there is some ambiguity about whether there still exists a mutual combat law in Washington State. The ambiguity comes from the following Seattle Municipal Code 12A.06.025 and its interpretation:

A.It is unlawful for any person to intentionally fight with another person in a public place and thereby create a substantial risk of:

1. Injury to a person who is not actively participating in the fight; or
1. Damage to the property of a person who is not actively participating in the fight.

B. In any prosecution under subsection A of this Section 12A.06.025, it is an affirmative defense that:
1. The fight was duly licensed or authorized by law; or
2. The person was acting in self-defense.

Many people interpret this to mean that it is legal for 2 people to fight in public so long as the fight does not hurt anyone else or the property of a person that is not involved in the fight. However it seems that many people base this interpretation on a news story from a couple of years ago. This happened when a self-styled street super hero, Phoenix Jones got into a confrontation with 3 men over the way he felt they were hassling  people on The Ave.

A quote from one of the officers seemed to suggest that the Police were not concerned with the actual fight itself.

“Officers inquired whether there was any medical attention required for the person who was punched in the face and that person declined,” said Whitcomb. “Officers then left the scene before they themselves were assaulted, by that second party, not the super-hero party.” This quote suggests that no actual laws were broken

The reality is that it is very unlikely that mutual combat is actually allowable by law in Washington. However, this ultimately depends on a judges interpretation of the law. The law quoted above is vague and there is a number of scenarios that highlight the absurdity of such a law in modern day USA. For example, what would happen if one person was fatally injured at the end of the fight? In a true mutual combat situation this would mean that there the party responsible for the death could not be prosecuted. Who is responsible for confirming that both participants of the fight entered into the bout and agreed on equal terms? Is it acceptable for a man to fight a woman? What age is it acceptable to be eligible for mutual combat? All these questions would have to be answered if such a law were to exist.

Should mutual combat be allowed?

Mutual combat can be simply defined as a fight or struggle in which both parties enter willingly or where two persons mutually fight upon agreed equal terms. In history it was used a way for two men to settle a dispute when they could not come to an agreement on civilly. Mutual combat is similar to the practice of gun dueling that was conducted in public as an attempt by one person to restore the honor of the one that declared the duel.

Is mutual combat a good idea? There may be some argument that in a civilized society mutual combat could be a way of reducing dangerous group brawls and other violent incidents on the streets. However the reality is that our society has evolved past mutual combat and dueling. Public order laws now govern what is now permissible and allowed to happen in our public spaces. Dueling and mutual combat are based on an honor system which in olden times was used in the absence of well defined law that could be used to settle disputes.