Carolyn Paulsen-Riat Charged with Assault for Shocking Husband with Table Saw

Carolyn Paulsen-Riat of Olympia, Washington is accused of Assault for allegedly re-wiring her husband’s table saw and causing him to receive an electrical shock.  According to an article in The Olympian, after the man was shocked he confronted her and she “told him that she had tampered with his tools by switching the positive and negative leads… to intentionally harm him.” tablesaw Many people who commented in the online article were upset that the judge decided to release this woman on her own recognizance.  Others in the comment section offered the opinion that if a man had been the defendant, that he would have been held on high bail. Paulsen-Riat has been charged with Assault 3rd Degree and Malicious Mischief for vandalism allegedly done to her husband’s property.   Her husband told police detectives that the table saw carried 220 volts, and the “arc from the plug adapter knocked him into some boxes located along the wall of the work shop….”  According to the article by reporter Jeremy Pawloski, the husband did not need medical attention.

It is interesting that Paulsen-Riat was charged with Assault Third Degree.  Under RCW 9A.36.031 the offense of  “Assault Third Degree” means the defendant is accused of committing the following actions:  “With criminal negligence, causes bodily harm to another person by means of a weapon or other instrument or thing likely to produce bodily harm” or “with criminal negligence, causes bodily harm accompanied by substantial pain that extends for a period sufficient to cause considerable suffering.

So do the prosecutors really believe that Paulsen-Riat acted with intent to harm her husband?  The crime she is charged with alleges that she negligently harmed her husband.   Under Washington’s sentencing guidelines, Assault Third Degree is classified as a “non-violent” crime, and for a first-time offender the sentencing range is 1-3 months.  To increase the charges to Assault 2nd Degree under RCW 9A.36.021, the prosecutors would have to prove that the re-wired table saw amounted to a “deadly weapon.”  (In pertinent part Assault Second Degree is defined as when a person “intentionally assaults another and thereby recklessly inflicts substantial bodily harm” or “assaults another with a deadly weapon“.)   For Assault Second Degree, the standard range of incarceration is 3-9 months with a potential weapon enhancement of 18 months.

It sounds as if this table saw would need to be analyzed by an expert.  Despite what you see on TV shows such as C.S.I., usually assault crimes are pretty run-of-the-mill and are not committed by particularly imaginative means.  That is not to say that assaults cannot be unusually cruel or brutal, just that they are committed in the conventional way.  And the conventional way is immediate, hands-on force with a knife or other typical weapon.  There were a few interesting comments about the electrical aspect of this posted by readers:

Crossing electrical leads on 220 cannot produce a shock. Shorting directly to ground can produce an arc


You would not be [electrocuted] by “switching the positive and negative wires” on a 220 volt appliance. There are not “positive and negative” wires on a 220 appliance — both of the main wires in 220 are hot, so reversing them would do nothing at all, and the appliance would still work as intended. Unless she switched one of the two “hot” wires with the ground wire, in which case it could have shocked him briefly, before the circuit breaker would blow.

These comments presumably were made my people who were not electricians.  It would be interesting to hear what an electrician would say about what it would take to harm or even shock someone through this alleged way.  The police allege that Carolyn Paulsen-Riat did admit to tampering with the wires, but it is unclear what her intent was.  At the time, she is alleged to have vandalized some of her husband’s property.  Is it possible that her intent was simply to damage her husband’s table saw?  The facts of this case are so unusual that it is hard to know what to make of it.

As you can see the judges are restrained by certain sentencing guidelines for Assault Third Degree and Assault Second Degree.  In Washington, the legislature came up with these guideline, and minimum and maximums.  It used to be that the judges had broad discretion to sentence within a broad range of 0-5 years or 0-10 years.  Now it is hard for judges to come up with the sentence that they feel is appropriate.  The purpose of having mandatory sentencing is so similar offenders are treated the same.  But how do you compare the facts of this case to “similar” cases?

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
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