Washington State Reckless Endangerment Law

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 What Is Reckless Endangerment in Washington State?

Criminal recklessness refers to a criminal defendant’s state of mind at the time that the crime they have been accused of was committed. As such, in order for a person to be found criminally reckless, that person must know and foresee the risks involved with the particular criminal act.

Additionally, the person must make a conscious decision to disregard the risks associated with their action(s), and proceed regardless of the risk. Because of the dangers presented to other people surrounding recklessness, many state laws and statutes prohibit or criminalize reckless conduct. Washington state is one of those states.

In Washington State reckless endangerment is a criminal offense that is found in the Revised Code of Washington (“RCW”) Title 9A, which contains the Washington Criminal Code. Specifically, RCW 9A.36.050 is the section of the Revised Code of Washington that deals with reckless endangerment punishment.

According to the Code, a person is guilty of reckless endangerment if they recklessly engage in conduct that creates a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another person that does not amount to a drive-by. The criminal charge for reckless endangerment is a gross misdemeanor.

What Constitutes a Reckless Endangerment Charge?

Once again, the laws of each state vary regarding what conduct constitutes reckless endangerment. However, in general, an individual will be charged with reckless endangerment if they deliberately or intentionally engage in behavior which poses a substantial or serious risk of injury to another individual.

Reckless endangerment charges commonly occur in cases where the defendant understood the risks their behavior would create and chose to continue engaging in that conduct anyway. In general reckless endangerment charges are sufficiently broad so that they cover a wide range of possible conducts which may pose a significant risk to the safety of other individuals.

What Are the Elements for Establishing a Reckless Endangerment Charge?

In order for the prosecution to prove a defendant guilty for reckless endangerment, they must prove all of the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In general, this means that the prosecution must prove the following elements:

  • Reckless Conduct: The prosecution must prove that the defendant engaged in conduct that was reckless; and
  • Risk of Serious Injury or Death: The prosecution must then prove that their conduct created a significant or substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death to another person.

As can be seen, a reckless endangerment charge, a defendant’s actions must exceed negligent or accidental conduct and their conduct must pose a risk of harm which is itself unreasonable.

Once again, it is not necessary for the prosecution to show that the defendant intended for their actions to cause harm to another individual or to show that the defendant intended to cause the specific harm which resulted from their actions. Instead, it is sufficient to prove reckless endangerment if the defendant’s conduct is sufficiently shown as reckless.

In other words, the defendant’s intent to act without regard to the possible risks is generally enough to constitute reckless endangerment.

For example, if an individual was showing off for their friends and fired a gunshot into the air in their backyard, and that bullet falls and injures their neighbor, they can be charged with reckless endangerment due to the fact that the risk of injury was arguable foreseeable. This is true even though the individual did not intend to cause any harm.

Is Reckless Endangerment a Misdemeanor or a Felony?

As mentioned above, reckless endangerment is most often charged in Washington as a gross misdemeanor charge. However, reckless endangerment may be charged as a felony if a weapon is involved in the offense.

Reckless endangerment may also be charged as a felony dependent on the victim. For example, reckless endangerment of a child is a serious crime that can be charged as a felony. Reckless endangerment may also be charged as a felony if it involves the endangerment of the elderly or a person with disabilities.

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

Examples of conduct that might lead to reckless endangerment charges include, but may not be limited to:

  • Drinking and driving, or DUI/DWI;
  • Driving at dangerously high speeds in a residential neighborhood, or in an area in which there are several pedestrians;
  • Using illegal substances in a public area;
  • Disregarding posted safety rules and protocols;
  • Medical abuse by ignoring policies, which result in elder abuse at nursing homes;
  • Carrying a loaded concealed weapon without a proper license to do so;
  • Storing weapons, toxic substances, or other dangerous items in areas in which children may access them;
  • Knowingly engaging in unprotected sexual activities when the person is aware that they have a sexually transmitted disease;
  • Operating heavy machinery in a reckless way around others;
  • The illegal use of fireworks; and
  • Engaging in rough play or sports in inappropriate settings, such as a store.

The main factor in any reckless endangerment claim is that the defendant had knowledge that their conduct was dangerous to those around them. As such, if the defendant was actually unaware of this fact, the court must consider whether the defendant should have known that their actions were dangerous.

What Does the Term Recklessness Mean?

Once again, recklessness means that an individual intentionally takes actions that they knew or should have known would pose a significant danger to others, even if the specific harm that occurred was not intended. For example, reckless driving, such as driving at high speeds in a residential area, is considered to be a reckless act. can fall under this category

What Conduct Can Result in a Reckless Endangerment Charge in Washington State?

In Washington State, there are numerous conducts which may result in a reckless endangerment charge, including:

  • Driving under the influence (“DUI”) when a child is in the motor vehicle;
  • Operating a motor vehicle at an unsafe speed in a roadway construction zone, school zone, or residential area; and
  • Accidental discharge of a firearm.

Is it Possible for My DUI to Become a Reckless Endangerment Charge?

In short, it depends. It may be possible for an individual’s DUI charge to be reduced to the lesser reckless endangerment charge in some cases. In most cases, in order for a defendant to receive a lesser charge, they must typically agree to plead guilty or no contest to the lesser reckless endangerment charge.

What Is the Criminal Penalty for Reckless Endangerment?

Once again, reckless endangerment in Washington State is most commonly charged as a gross misdemeanor. In Washington state, a gross misdemeanor is any crime that doesn’t result in a misdemeanor conviction or felony convictions. If an individual is convicted for reckless endangerment that is charged as a gross misdemeanor, they could face imprisonment for up to 364 days in county jail, a criminal fine of up to $5,000, or a combination of both.

Should I Contact a Criminal Lawyer?

If you are facing a reckless endangerment charge in Washington State, you will need to consult with an experienced Washington criminal lawyer immediately. An attorney will be able to provide you with the best legal advice regarding your legal defenses and options under Washington State law.

Additionally, a criminal defense lawyer will also be able to communicate with the prosecutor’s office to see if the charges being brought against you can be reduced or dismissed due to the availability of an affirmative legal defense. Finally, an attorney can also represent you at any in person criminal proceeding, and in court.


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