You may have been charged with reckless endangerment under A.R.S. § 13-1201 or may have been offered a plea to the crime. Endangerment is a unique crime because while it can be a harsh charge, it also often offered to negotiate down from even more serious charges. Reckless endangerment charges can be charged alone or in conjunction with other more serious charges such as various violent crimes or vehicular crimes. However, when the state charges a person with reckless endangerment, it is typically charged as a felony. Regardless of how the charge came about, a conviction can have disastrous impacts on your motor vehicle record, background checks and professional licenses.
Reckless Endangerment Defined
Pursuant to A.R.S. § 13-1201, you are guilty of the crime of reckless endangerment is you:
- Recklessly endanger someone else with a substantial risk of imminent death or physical injury.
A person can be convicted of either felony reckless endangerment or misdemeanor reckless endangerment. The difference between misdemeanor and felony endangerment involves the type of outcome that your behavior would have likely resulted in. Felony reckless endangerment involves a risk of death where misdemeanor endangerment involves only the risk of physical injury.
Felony Reckless Endangerment
The crime of Felony Vehicular Endangerment requires the prosecution prove that you recklessly endangered another person with a substantial risk of imminent death.
- Recklessly. This means that the prosecution must prove that you disregarded a substantial risk that your conduct would cause imminent death.
- Actual Substantial Risk of Imminent Death. Also, the prosecution must prove that your conduct did in fact create a substantial risk of imminent death. In other words, the victim must have been placed in actual substantial risk of death, not just injury.
- Dangerous Offense. In Arizona, reckless endangerment can be charged as a dangerous offense if the crime involved the use of a dangerous instrument.
- A dangerous instrument is anything that is able to cause death or serious physical injury because of the way it is being used. For felony vehicular endangerment, the prosecution alleges that your car is a dangerous instrument.
- The sentence you receive for a dangerous offense must be prison. If an offense is alleged as dangerous, then probation is not available even if it is your first time committing any type of crime.
Example: A person is driving under the influence (DUI) and rear-ends another car on the freeway where cars are traveling at high speeds. Because of being rear-ended the second thrown into other lanes of traffic, forcing other cars on the highway to slam on their breaks and swerve.
The DUI driver could face reckless endangerment because his drinking and driving reckless endangered the driver of the car he hit and put the other driver in “substantial risk of imminent death. Sometimes the prosecutor will even charge reckless endangerment counts for the people in the cars that had to swerve out of the way but did not get hit.
Misdemeanor Reckless Endangerment
The crime of misdemeanor reckless endangerment requires the prosecution prove that you recklessly endangered another person with a substantial risk of imminent physical injury.
- Recklessly. This means that the prosecution must prove that you disregarded a substantial risk that your conduct would cause physical injury.
- Actual Substantial Risk of Imminent Physical Injury. Also, the prosecution must prove that your conduct did in fact create a substantial risk of physical injury. In other words, the victim must have been placed in actual substantial risk of physical injury.
- Physical Injury Defined. Physical injury means the impairment of a physical condition.
Example: A person is driving under the influence (DUI). The DUI driver approaches a red light where other cars are already stopped for the red light. But the DUI driver’s reaction time is slow because of the alcohol and rear-ends the car in front. The driver of the hit car is not injured, but the DUI driver could still face a charge of misdemeanor reckless endangerment.
Punishment for Reckless Endangerment
Class 6 Dangerous Felony
In Arizona, if you are convicted of a class 6 dangerous felony pursuant to A.R.S. § 13-1201, you face the following punishment for reckless endangerment:
If convicted, the sentencing judge first starts by considering the presumptive term of 2.25 years in prison. If there are any mitigating or aggravating factors, then the judge can go down to a minimum sentence of 1.5 years in prison and up to a maximum sentence of 3 years in prison.
As explained above, a dangerous felony means that the crime involved the use of a dangerous instrument. For Vehicular Endangerment, the prosecution charges the car as the dangerous instrument.
Class 6 Non-Dangerous Felony
If you are convicted of endangerment as a class 6 non-dangerous felony pursuant to A.R.S. § 13-1201, then you face the following punishment for reckless endangerment:
- Probation, with anywhere from 0 days in jail to 12 months in jail; or
- .33 to 2 years in prison, with a presumptive term of 1 year in prison.
To be convicted of Vehicular Endangerment as a non-dangerous felony offense, the prosecution has to:
- Not charge Vehicular Endangerment as a dangerous offense; or
- The crime was not committed with a dangerous instrument such as is the case with many child endangerment cases.
Class 6 Undesignated Felony (Non-Dangerous)
A conviction for reckless endangerment that is a class 6 undesignated felony under A.R.S. § 13-1201, gets the same sentence as a class 6 non-dangerous felony conviction.
The main difference is that you can have the felony changed to a misdemeanor. That is why the felony is undesignated. Usually, you can have the class 6 undesignated felony designated a class 1 misdemeanor after you successfully complete the terms of your probation. But this also means that if you do not comply with probation, then a judge may designate the offense a felony.
Misdemeanor Reckless Endangerment
Misdemeanor reckless endangerment is a class 1 misdemeanor in Arizona. If convicted of misdemeanor reckless endangerment, then you could be sentenced to:
- From 0 days in jail to 6 months in jail;
- Probation for up to 3 years.
Defenses to Reckless Endangerment
Like all other crimes, you should look at the quality of the police’s investigation and see whether you can fight the reliability and accuracy of the evidence. But for Vehicular Endangerment, the most common areas of evidence to challenge are:
- Imminent Death or Physical Injury. The prosecution has to prove that the risk you created was of imminent death or physical injury. Imminent means “about to occur” or “impending.”
- The law requires the extra element that the risk be imminent because the law does not want people to get convicted based on weak assumptions that could produce uncertainty and unpredictability. For example, Vehicular Manslaughter requires that a person disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that their conduct will result in death. There is no requirement that the unjustifiable risk be imminent. This is because there is an observable result in Manslaughter—death. But with Vehicular Endangerment, there is only a risk created. Therefore, if the creation of this risk is going to be criminalized, then the risk must be imminent.
- So, it is important to make sure that the prosecution is not trying to convict you for a remote risk. For example:
- How close were the other cars? How did the police determine the distance of the other cars?
- How fast were you driving? Is the prosecution’s evidence of your car’s speed faulty?
- Actual Risk. It is not enough for the prosecution to prove that you disregarded a substantial risk that your conduct would cause imminent death or physical injury. The prosecution must also prove that your conduct did in fact create a substantial risk of imminent death or physical injury. The victim must have actually been placed at risk. Does the evidence only show that there was a potential risk or a perceived risk? If so, then there was no actual risk.
- Risk of Physical Injury, Not Death. Whether you created a substantial risk of imminent death or physical injury drastically changes the seriousness of your conviction and punishment. If there is a lot of evidence that you created a substantial risk, then you may want to consider arguing that the risk you created was of imminent physical injury, not death.
Reckless Endangerment vs Vehicular Endangerment
Vehicular endangerment is the same as the standard crime of endangerment under Arizona law, A.R.S. § 13-1201. It is when a person recklessly endangers someone else with a substantial risk of imminent death or physical injury. The only difference is that a car is involved in vehicular endangerment.
Punishment for Vehicular Endangerment
The punishment for reckless endangerment and the punishment of vehicular endangerment follow the same guidelines. However, vehicular endangerment is normally charged as a dangerous offense as vehicular endangerment necessary requires that you use a dangerous instrument, a car, in order to commit the crime.
Your driving privileges are not automatically reinstated after the 1 year has passed. You must apply to have your driving privileges reinstated by completing a Revocation Application (also called an Investigation Packet) with MVD and pay a reinstatement fee. You must also complete any other court or MVD requirements, such as paying all fines, traffic survival school, or alcohol/drug counseling.
Arizona Criminal Defense Attorneys
Due to the serious nature of these charges, utilizing the services an experienced criminal defense attorney is of the utmost importance in fighting a charge of reckless endangerment. At Feldman & Royle, we have experience handling all matters of violent, negligent and vehicular crimes. We leave no stone unturned in an effort to get the best possible results for our clients. We offer a free and confidential consultation in an effort to answer questions and discuss defenses.