State laws differ in their definitions of the crime of reckless endangerment. However, a person generally can be charged with the offense if they deliberately engage in behavior that poses a serious or substantial risk of injury to another person. This is especially true when the person understood the risk created by their actions, but acted in spite of them. The charge is a broad one that covers a range of conduct. The essence of the offense is engaging in behavior that creates a risk to another person’s safety such that the law characterizes the behavior as reckless.
In some states, there is no crime of reckless endangerment per se. Rather, the state may have a series of laws regarding recklessly endangering vulnerable people, e.g. children, or engaging in specific conduct that endangers others. An example is Texas, where state law defines the crime of child endangerment. This occurs when a person puts a child under the age of 15 in danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment. In Texas, this can be a crime whether the defendant acted intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently.
Texas law also defines the crime known as “deadly conduct.” This crime can be committed when a person recklessly engages in conduct that puts another person in imminent danger of serious bodily injury. This is a misdemeanor under Texas law.
In addition, Texas defines another type of “deadly conduct,” a crime that occurs when a person knowingly discharges a firearm at or in the direction of another person, a habitation, building or vehicle that is occupied. The recklessness of the defendant and danger created can be presumed if the defendant knowingly points a firearm at or in the direction of another whether or not the actor believed the firearm to be loaded. This second kind of “deadly conduct” is a felony in Texas.
What Are the Elements of Reckless Endangerment?
Reckless endangerment is a crime consisting of behavior that creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person. To win conviction on a charge of reckless endangerment, the prosecution must prove that the defendant engaged in conduct that was reckless. They must also show that the conduct created a significant or substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death to another person.
Conviction does not require proof that the defendant intended specifically to cause the harm that resulted or could have resulted. Rather, the prosecution must only prove that the defendant acted in a way that showed a complete disregard for the consequences of their actions and that the consequences were foreseeable. A charge of reckless endangerment may be made as a result of a defendant’s actions in various contexts, such as cases of domestic violence, car accidents, construction site accidents, and hospital abuse.
For example, a defendant may have been showing off for friends when they fired a shot into the air in their backyard, injuring their neighbor. The defendant can be charged with reckless endangerment because the risk of injury in this scenario was foreseeable, even though the defendant did not intend to cause any harm.
In Maryland, there are two types of reckless endangerment. The first is engaging in conduct that creates a risk of death or physical injury. The second is discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle in such a way that it creates a “substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another.”
In Maryland, the standard for deciding if a person’s conduct is reckless endangerment is the “reasonable person” standard. Per this standard, the question is whether an ordinary person in the same circumstance as that in which the defendant was would have behaved similarly. If the answer is in the negative, then the defendant’s conduct could be seen as reckless endangerment. In Maryland, the elements of the reckless endangerment are:
- The person behaved so as to create a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another;
- That a reasonable person would not have engaged in the same conduct; and
- The person charged acted recklessly.
In Maryland, the crime is a misdemeanor criminal offense, but it can be punished by up to 5 years in state prison and a fine of as much as $5,000.
Is Reckless Endangerment a Misdemeanor or a Felony?
The crime may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the specific facts of the case and the law of the state in which it is committed. Typically, if a weapon is involved, the crime gives rise to a felony charge. The same is true depending on the nature of the victim. For example, when the victim is a child or some other especially vulnerable person, this may lead to the crime being charged as a felony..
Some states may charge the crime as a misdemeanor when the same behavior under the same set of facts would lead to a felony charge in another state. Also keep in mind that in some states, even if a person is charged with a misdemeanor, the state may impose penalties that are comparable to those imposed for a felony conviction, e.g. Maryland, as explained above.
What Are Examples of Conduct That Might Lead to Reckless Endangerment Charges?
Again, a commonly recognized type of reckless endangerment involves children. The crime may be referred to as “child endangerment.” This crime is committed when an adult, through recklessness or indifference, allows a child to be put in danger. Examples would include leaving a child in the care of a known abuser, leaving a child unattended, driving while intoxicated with a child in the car, or serving alcohol to a minor.
Examples of conduct that might give rise to the charge of reckless endangerment include driving carelessly, i.e. driving while texting, speeding or disobeying other traffic laws. Or, it might comprise disregarding safety rules and protocols , i.e. if a general contractor disregards health and safety regulations in order to speed up construction, or medical abuse, i.e. ignoring health and safety regulations leading to elder abuse at a nursing home.
Are There Defenses to a Reckless Endangerment Charge?
In most states, a charge of reckless endangerment depends on the defendant’s state of mind. Again, reckless endangerment does not require proof of intent, but the defendant’s motivations still matter in deciding whether the actions were reckless or merely negligent, whether the defendant knew, or should have known, that their conduct posed a substantial risk of harm to someone else.
For example, a person may be shooting at a gun range when their bullet leaves the premises and injures a person in the vicinity. These actions may give rise to some kind of criminal charge, but probably not reckless endangerment, because the risk was not foreseeable. On the other hand, shooting a gun in one’s backyard can lead to a reckless endangerment charge.
Another possible defense is that of self-defense, i.e. the defendant was forced to act as they did because their own life was threatened.
In addition, while injury to a person or damage to property is not necessary to prove reckless endangerment, the fact that there was no actual injury may help to reduce the charge to a less serious crime or lessen the penalty imposed.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Help Defending Against Reckless Endangerment Charges?
Conviction of a charge of reckless endangerment can lead to serious consequences. In some states under some circumstances, it is a felony criminal offense. In other states, even if it is classified as a misdemeanor, the penalties are harsh.
You should consult a qualified criminal defense attorney to help you understand the specific nature of the charge in your state and what you can do to challenge it.