The term reckless endangerment covers many different types of actions, all involving the recklessness or indifference likely to cause death or serious bodily injury to a child, by an adult. Some states include endangerment offenses in child abuse statutes, while other states make child endangerment a separate offense altogether.

Endangerment of a child is a serious crime that can either be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony, otherwise known as a “wobbler,” depending on the specifics and surrounding circumstances of the offense and the particular state’s criminal code.

For example, in California, child endangerment would rise to a level of felony where there is substantial or significant injuries, including death. Whereas, endangerment would rise to a level of misdemeanor where the child does not experience great bodily harm or dies.

How is Endangerment Determined to be Reckless?

A person is determined to commit the crime of reckless endangerment when they place a child in a situation where it is more likely than not the child will become exposed to harm. That means that the caregiver must do more than make a mistake or act foolhardy.

The individual does not need to intend to harm a child, rather they only need to have acted without regard or care for the foreseeable injuries and consequences that would result from their actions.

Proving reckless endangerment requires a thorough examination of the surrounding circumstances and evidence in order to prove the accused’s state of mind.  If the defendant can demonstrate that they didn’t know, or didn’t have a good reason to know about the harm, then it may serve as a defense in their favor, as discussed further below.

What are Examples of Reckless Endangerment of a Child?

Child endangerment laws differ by state as to what constitutes child endangerment and are often very broadly applied. The most common examples of reckless endangerment of a child include:

  • Having a child in a car while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
  • Leaving a child in a hot car;
  • Committing a crime while a child is with you, such as domestic abuse, robbery, manufacturing drugs, etc.;
  • Having unsecured firearms in the same environment as a child;
  • Buying alcohol for minors or serving alcohol to an underage driver;
  • Leaving a child unsupervised in an unsafe area, such as a construction site;
  • Leaving a child home alone without proper adult supervision or care;
  • Engaging in sexual activity in view of a child; or
  • Other various forms of child abuse or failing to report suspected child abuse.

Child abuse can also involve intentional battery or assault of a child, such as physically beating the child. Additionally, child abuse can include failing to feed, clothe, or provide proper shelter for the child.

When an adult does not intend to cause harm to a child, but the child suffers the harm regardless, due to the careless supervision of the child, the adult may be found guilty of negligent child endangerment.

Are there Defenses to Charges of Child Endangerment?

I spank my children as a form of child discipline, am I at risk of being charged with child endangerment? The simple answer is, it depends. Most states make exceptions for the reasonable discipline of children. What is reasonable will depending on the circumstances of the discipline, and the exception of reasonable discipline is more difficult to utilize when the child is being placed in higher degrees of risk.

With higher degrees of risk and charges, such as charges of felony child endangerment, it is better to try and prove that the conduct was merely reckless or negligent. You accomplish this this by: gathering a list of witnesses, if any, to negate that the action ever even occurred (the best, but most improbable defense); or presenting testimony or even an expert witness to demonstrate that the risk alleged would not have resulted in great bodily injury or death to the child.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help Defending Against Reckless Endangerment Charges?

Although not always necessary, as a simple investigation of the charges may reveal them to be false or exaggerated, defending against well founded charges of reckless child endangerment requires the consultation of a qualified criminal defense attorney.

You should contact an attorney immediately if you have been charged with or have any legal questions regarding reckless child endangerment or other degrees of child endangerment.

Because punishment for reckless child endangerment can often include fines up to $1,000 or more, probation, removal of parental rights, or even one year of prison time or more, a qualified criminal defense attorney is often necessary to defend you from the charges you are facing.

Important: If you are a victim of child abuse or suspect someone of child abuse, you should call the police immediately. If there is sufficient evidence, the police will then forward your case to the District Attorney’s office to prosecute the person who committed the child abuse against you or the child.