State laws will differ in the precise definition of what constitutes reckless endangerment. However, a person generally will be charged with that 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 actor understood the risks but disregarded them anyway.

The charge is sufficiently broad so as to cover a range of conduct that poses a sufficient risk to another person’s safety such that the law finds this behavior reckless.

What are the Elements for Establishing a Reckless Endangerment Charge?

It must be proven that the defendant intended to commit the act giving rise to the charge. Further, it must be shown that the defendant knew (or in some cases, should have known) of the risk posed by this action. The defendant’s action must also exceeds negligent or accidental conduct, posing a risk of harm that is itself unreasonable.

It isn’t necessary to prove that the defendant intended their actions to cause harm to others or that they intended to cause the specific harm that resulted. The recklessness of the defendant’s conduct is sufficient. That is, the intent to act without regard to the risks is generally enough.

So, for example, you may just have been showing off for your friends when you fired a shot into the air in your backyard injuring your neighbor. You can be charged with reckless endangerment because the risk of injury was arguably foreseeable even though you didn’t intend to cause any harm.

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 your state. Typically, when there is a weapon involved, the crime gives rise to a felony charge. The same is true depending on who the victim is. For example, most people are familiar with the charge of reckless endangerment when a child is involved.

Some states may issue a misdemeanor charge when the same behavior under the same set of facts will lead to a felony charge in another state. Regardless, it generally comes down to what the state considers necessary to discourage behavior it deems harmful to the public. Also keep in mind that in some states, even if you are charged with a misdemeanor, the state may impose penalties that are comparable to those imposed for a felony conviction.

What are Examples of Conduct that Might Lead to Reckless Endangerment Charges?

Again, a commonly recognized example of reckless endangerment activities involves children. Usually categorized as child endangerment laws, these laws make it a crime for any adult, who through recklessness or indifference, allows a child to be endangered. These types of activities 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.

Other common examples of conduct that might give rise to the charge of reckless endangerment include driving carelessly (i.e. driving while texting, speeding and disobeying other traffic laws), disregarding safety rules and protocols (i.e. a general contractor shortcuts safety rules in order to speed up construction), or medical abuse (i.e. ignoring policies that result in elder abuse at a nursing home).

Also consider the following conduct:

  • Carrying a loaded gun in your purse into a theater with the safety off;
  • Shooting a gun off in a crowd;
  • Throwing rocks off a bridge at passing cars;
  • Drag racing using public streets; or
  • Removing a stop sign from a busy intersection.

Are there Defenses to a Reckless Endangerment Charge?

In most jurisdictions, a charge for reckless endangerment usually hinges on your state of mind. Again, reckless endangerment doesn’t require  proving intent, but your motivations still matter. Were your actions reckless or merely negligent? Did you know, or should you have known, that your conduct posed a substantial risk of harm to someone else?

Imagine that you are shooting at a gun range when your bullet leaves the premises and injuries someone on the street. Your actions may give rise to other charges, but reckless endangerment is arguable not one of them based on these limited facts. On the other hand, shooting your gun off in your backyard can lead to a reckless endangerment charge.

Also, consider whether the facts of your case support a claim for self-defense. As well, while injury to person or property isn’t necessary to prove a reckless endangerment charge, the fact that there was no actual injury may help to mitigate (reduce) the charges.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Help Defending Against Reckless Endangerment Charges?

A charge of reckless endangerment can lead to serious criminal, personal, and financial consequences.  Consider seeking the advice of a qualified criminal defense attorney to help you understand the specific nature of the charge and what you can do to challenge it.