The Constitution of the United States separates our country from many other nations on earth because it guarantees several types of freedom. Citizens are generally free to act at their own discretion, so long as they do not violate the rights of others.

Citizens are also generally free not to act if they so choose, so long as they are not derelict in an affirmative duty. It is against this backdrop that some disagree with Washington’s failing to summon assistance statute. RCW 9A.36.160 states that a “person is guilty of the crime of failing to summon assistance if: (1) He or she was present when a crime was committed against another person, and (2) He or she knows that the other person has suffered substantial bodily harm as a result of the crime committed against the other person and that the other person is in need of assistance.”

While many European countries have had such “Good Samaritan” laws in place since the first half of the twentieth century, such laws in the U.S. are relatively recent. The vast majority of states have not enacted similar laws.

Other Good Samaritan laws

Laws requiring a person to render some type of aid are not uncommon, but usually they are conditioned on situations such as a special relationship between the victim and the one rendering aid. For example, ambulance paramedics have an affirmative duty to render sufficient and diligent aid to a victim who is the subject of their response. Another common condition requiring a person to assist arises when one begins to render aid. Once a citizen commits to assisting a victim, that citizen must continue to aid the victim until professional help arrives. If one who commits to aid absconds during the aiding process and leaves the victim in a state worse than when the aid was initiated, that citizen will incur liability.


The same statute goes on to limit the situations in which this law applies. People are exempt from the duty to summon assistance if doing so interferes with another important duty owed to a third party. Compliance with the statute is also conditioned by the ability of the citizen to summon assistance “reasonably . . . without danger to himself or herself.” Further, if another citizen has already summoned assistance, this extinguished the duty of all others to do the same.

Restriction of personal liberties

Opponents of such laws argue that this type of law generally acts to limit personal freedom, that the government should not impose upon citizens in such a fashion, and that such laws will lead to vigilantism.  Opponents also posit the slippery slope argument that this type of law leads to more laws of the same nature, further inhibiting the rights of U.S. citizens.

Get legal representation

If you or a loved one has been accused of failing to summon assistance, or another related crime, protect your right remain safe, to carry out pre-existing duties and your overall liberties. Contact the criminal defense attorneys at the Nahajski Firm, in Seattle, at (206) 621-0500 for a free and confidential initial consultation.