Reckless endangerment is a charge that can be filed against people who engage in activity with dangerous consequences that could be foreseen, with a disregard for the danger involved. This charge may be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the specifics of the situation. It can also be combined with other charges.
In situations deemed reckless endangerment, people do something that they know is dangerous, and they do not exhibit any thought about the potential consequences of what they are doing. They willfully behave in a way that is wanton or reckless, putting other people at risk. No intent to injure or kill is required; it is enough that the person knew an activity could pose a threat and chose to do it anyway.
One example could be firing a weapon out the sunroof of a car. The person firing the weapon would be aware that there is a chance that someone could be hit with a bullet, potentially putting people in the area in danger. If someone is injured or killed, the person can be charged with a felony, because the use of a deadly weapon such as a gun in a reckless endangerment case upgrades the charge to a felony.
Penalties for this crime can vary. Misdemeanors and felonies are punished differently, as are cases in which people injure others as opposed to cases in which people are killed. The specifics of the case can also play a role. For example, someone charged with reckless endangerment and kidnapping will be subject to different penalties than someone who is just charged with the one crime. Some regions of the world have sentencing guidelines for specific types of crimes, in which case a conviction will come with a mandatory penalty, while in other areas, the judge may have some discretion.
Mounting a defense to this charge can take two approaches. One approach involves disputing that the person engaged in the alleged activity at all. The defense may challenge witnesses who claimed to see the defendant and question other evidence that is designed to place the defendant at the scene. People can also attempt to argue that the person was not aware that the behavior was risky and was therefore not behaving recklessly. Such defenses are very difficult to pursue successfully unless it can be demonstrated that the defendant did not have legal capacity at the time of the crime and therefore was unable to make sound decisions or distinguish between right and wrong.