Curious because I see posted sometimes (on various sites, as a 'fun fact') that there exist jurisdictions (e.g. Seattle, WA) where if both parties agree beforehand to 'mutual combat' then neither party can be tried for battery.

To what extent is this true, and how applicable is to the whole of the USA? Does it cover both civil and criminal actions or just one or anothor

  • FWIW, there are state constitution provisions prohibiting dueling (which would include most instances of mutual combat), in about a third of U.S. states, mostly adopted in the late 19th century.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 21:08

3 Answers 3


An example of where this is not allowed is Seattle, WA. Municipal code SMC 12A.06.025 states

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

  2. 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.

You can see from adjacent sections that "mutual combat" is not legal. I recognize that there is this meme about Seattle, but this is a distortion of an incident when the police turned a blind eye to a fight. We have police issues, no doubt: there is nothing legal about such fights. Of course, for a licensed event, you can "fight".

Of course the potential legality depends on how mutual combat is defined. Illinois v. Austin 133 Ill.2d 118 and citations therein, subsequently Illinois v. Thompson, 821 NE 2d 664 define it thus:

Mutual combat is a fight or struggle which both parties enter willingly or where two persons, upon a sudden quarrel and in hot blood, mutually fight upon equal terms and where death results from the combat.

Similar death-definitions are found in Donaldson v. State, 289 SE 2d 242, Iowa v. Spates, 779 NW 2d 770. The law looks askance of such behavior. For the sake of clarity, a term other than "mutual combat" would be preferable.

  • 1
    I'm dying to see the details of how one obtains a "license to fight" in Seattle!
    – feetwet
    Commented Apr 29, 2017 at 13:06
  • 3
    I think this is what's required (starter link): dol.wa.gov/business/athletics/proevents.html, or sanction by licensed organization.
    – user6726
    Commented Apr 29, 2017 at 14:59
  • 3
    The quoted law mentions a public place. Could you agree to mutual combat in private on private property owned by one (or both?) of the combatants and end up prosecuted in Seattle?
    – Patrick87
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 22:20
  • 2
    You and I could have a boxing match in Seattle in your basement without breaking the law, though if I kill you, I could get prosecuted. We could go at each other with kendo sticks or fencing foils. Consent is a defense against assault charges: govt.westlaw.com/wcrji/Document/…
    – user6726
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 23:27
  • 2
    The Seattle municipal code section that you cite seems to forbid fighting in a public place only if it endangers third parties or their property. On the face of it, it would seem that it does not forbid fighting between consenting persons in a public place, as long as they take care not to injure any bystanders or cause any property damage. (One of the "adjacent sections" you allude to, such as "12A.06.010 - Assault", might still forbid it; @user6726 seems to argue above that it won't, if both parties consent, but that claim seems to ultimately rest on case law that I'm unfamiliar with.) Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 0:20

12A.06.025 - Fighting.

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;

DISCLAIMER: I'm not a lawyer. I don't have a law degree. I don't live in any of the above mentioned places.

With that being said, I feel like there's some kind of purposeful loophole in bullet number 1 above. It doesn't say it's unlawful to fight someone, it says it's unlawful to fight someone who isn't actively participating in the fight. What if the two are actively participating in the fight? That sounds like a pretty fair definition of "mutual combat" to me. However, this is only one section of the penal code so there may be another that adds to this somewhere. If that's the case, maybe this particular penal code wasn't such a good reference. Not knocking the person who posted it, however, because they seem to know what they're talking about. I'm just throwing in my opinion with no prior knowledge.


According to sections 22.01 and 22.06 in the Texas penal code, any two individuals who feel the need to fight can agree to mutual combat through a signed for or even just verbal or implied communication and have at it (fists only, however). Some say that it is legal in California and Seattle but I have yet to find any form of viable evidence on the subject.

  • 2
    The code absolutely does not say what you claim it does. Two random individuals cannot claim this fight to be part of their occupation, of a medical or scientific procedure, or that it does not threaten/cause bodily harm.
    – user4657
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 20:13

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