While behind the wheel, one may be charged with a seemingly endless laundry list of crimes: speeding, failure to obey stop signs, driving the wrong way down a one way road. The more serious driving crimes include reckless driving, reckless endangerment, negligent driving, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These crimes sometimes bleed into one another (ie. driving drunk can be considered negligent, reckless, or reckless endangerment depending on the circumstances), and notably, results in a lot of confusion.
What is Reckless Endangerment?
In the common law, reckless endangerment (also known as criminal endangerment) is a crime consisting of acts that create a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person. In essence, it is a crime that covers a wide range of behavior, and is not limited to charges related to driving, although the crime mainly comes up in a driving context. These other crimes include: waiving a loaded gun at a group of people, other negligent forms of conduct.
In the state of Washington, a person is guilty of reckless endangerment when:
1) S/he recklessly engages in conduct not amounting to drive-by shooting but that creates a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another person.
2) Reckless endangerment is a gross misdemeanor (which is punishable by 364 days in jail and up to a $5,000 fine)
See RCW 9a.36.050.
In order to be convicted of this crime, prosecutors must still prove all the elements laid out in the statute beyond a reasonable doubt.
How Reckless Endangerment Relates to Other Driving Crimes
As a practical matter, it is very rare for one to be charged with reckless endangerment based on driving behavior alone. Rather, reckless endangerment comes typically comes as a companion charge to a DUI when the driver has children or minors in the car. It is therefore not uncommon to be charged with both a DUI and reckless endangerment.
- Reduction from a DUI
- Reckless Endangerment with Priors
- Reckless Endangerment vs. Reckless Driving
- Reckless Endangerment vs. Negligent Driving
Depending on the nature and facts concerning a DUI case, reckless endangerment may be a viable option for reducing charges and penalties. In other words, it can alternative charge to a DUI. This is to your advantage, as it is generally considered a lesser charge than a DUI. This is because a reckless endangerment conviction does not carry with it any mandatory jail time and fines, or a requirement for an ignition interlock device on your vehicle.
It should be noted however, that like almost any crime that is originally charged as a DUI, a conviction of reckless endangerment will count as a prior for sentencing purposes should you be arrested and charged with a subsequent FUI. The reckless endangerment will be considered a “prior offense” and that will enhance the mandatory penalties on the new charge and most certainly give you a greater sentence. The only sure way to avoid this consequence is to not drink and drive, but if you do, and you will need the help of an experienced attorney.
Reckless driving is defined as driving any “vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” See also RCW 46.61.530. It is also a gross misdemeanor that comes with a potential year in jail and a 5,000 fine like the crime of reckless endangerment. However, unlike reckless driving, a conviction for reckless endangerment will not result in the mandatory 30 suspension of driving privileges.
Negligent driving in the 1st degree occurs when you operate a motor vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers, or is likely to endanger, any person or property, and you exhibit the effects of having consumed liquor or an illegal drug. See RCW 46.61.5249.
Unlike reckless endangerment which is a gross misdemeanor, negligent driving is a misdemeanor.
All crimes of reckless endangerment, reckless driving, and negligent driving may come as reduced sentencing in lieu of a DUI. All crimes also will count as priors if you are charged or convicted with a subsequent DUI.
Other Legal Issues:
If you are not a U.S. citizen, a reckless endangerment conviction may have adverse effects on your status in the United States because it is classified as a crime involving moral turpitude. This means it may trigger deportation proceedings under the federal Immigration and Nationality Act. See 8 U.S. Code § 1227.
Additionally, convictions of reckless endangerment or any gross misdemeanor has effects on your reputation, future job prospects, and sometimes even qualifications to receive student aid.
Legal Defenses to Reckless Endangerment
When a charge of reckless endangerment comes as a plea deal to a DUI, there is no defense in those instances because you will be pleading ‘guilty' to reduce your sentencing. However, in other instances not related to DUIs, there is the defense of factual impossibility:
- Even if the actions are alleged to be true, if it was factually impossible for anyone to suffer any type of injury or there was no risk at all, the law provides for this defense. For example, if one was charged with reckless endangerment for waiving a gun around, it would be a defense if the gun was never loaded—it was therefore impossible for there to be a substantial risk pf physical serious injury.
Seattle Reckless Endangerment Attorney
When you understand the potential consequences of a misdemeanor or felony conviction, you will understand how important it is to work with an experienced attorney who knows the local courts and inner workings of law enforcement. Seattle criminal defense lawyer Steve Karimi has been zealously defending people's freedom and keeping them out of jail for decades. He represents people in any state criminal court in Washington facing a wide range of misdemeanor, juvenile, and felony criminal threat charges- including charges reckless endangerment, DUIs, and marijuana DUIs. Contact a Seattle criminal defense attorney today and call 206-660-6200 to schedule a free initial consultation.