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Reckless Endangerment

New York law provides for two versions of the reckless endangerment. The first version of reckless endangerment in New York is a Class "A" misdemeanor under Penal Law 120.20 based on the risk of serious physical injury. The second version of reckless endangerment in New York i is a Class "D" felony under Penal Law 120.25 based on a depraved indifference to human life.

The reckless endangerment statute is extremely vague. The statute lends itself to selective prosecutions based more on the emotions involved in tragic cases rather than any real criminal act. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney often makes the different in obtaining the best result possible particularly during the earliest phases of the investigation.

New York Reckless Endangerment Defense Lawyer

If you have been charged with reckless endangerment in New York City, contact Rochelle Berliner for cases being prosecuted in Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan or Brooklyn. Rochelle Berliner is an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands how to aggressively fight charges of reckless endangerment under New York law.


NY Reckless Endangerment Information Center


Misdemeanor Reckless Endangerment for Creating a Risk of Serious Physical Injury

New York Penal Law 120.20 for Reckless Endangerment for creating a risk of serious physical injury became effective on September 1, 1967. This charge of reckless endangerment in the second degree is a Class "A" misdemeanor.

Under the laws of New York, the charge of Reckless Endangerment in the second degree can be charged when it is alleged that the person charged recklessly engaged in conduct which created a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person.

Under the reckless endangerment statute, the term serious physical injury is defined to include:

  • loss or protracted impairment of the function of any bodily organ;
  • protracted impairment of health; or
  • protracted and serious disfigurement; or
  • an impairment of a person's physical condition which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes death.

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Definitions in New York's Reckless Endangerment Statute

The reckless endangerment statute defines the phrase "recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person" as conduct that:

  • creates an unjustifiable and substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person;
  • when he or she is aware of and consciously disregards that risk; and
  • when that risk is of such nature and degree that disregard of it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.

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Special Jury Instruction on Voluntary Intoxication in Reckless Endangerment Cases

In reckless endangerment cases, the standard jury instructions provide that where there is evidence of voluntary intoxication on the part of the defendant, the jury should be instructed as follows:

A person also acts recklessly when he or she creates such a risk but is unaware of that risk solely by reason of his or her voluntary intoxication.


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Felony Reckless Endangerment for a Depraved Indifference to Human Life

New York Penal Law 120.25 for Reckless Endangerment for a depraved indifferent to human life became effective on September 1, 1967. The statute was revised on December 12, 2006 and June 5, 2012. This charge of reckless endangerment in the first degree is a Class "D" felony.

Under New York law, a person can be charged with Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree when it is alleged that the person accused acted under circumstances in a manner evincing a depraved indifference to human life by recklessly engaging in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person.


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Standard Jury Instructions for the Felony Version of Reckless Endangerment

In 2006, the felony version of the reckless endangerment jury instructions were revised in accord with the Court of Appeals holding in People v. Feingold, 7 NY3d 288 (2006) (overruling People v. Register, 60 NY2d 270 (1983). In the Feingold decision, the court held that depraved indifference to human life is a culpable mental state.”

Another case decided with the Feingold decision, People v. Mancini, 7 NY3d 767 (2006), the court found that leaving a person to die is not depraved indifference murder. Likewise, in People v. Swinton, 7 NY3d 776 (2006) the court held that a "conviction for depraved indifference assault was modified to assault in the third degree because the evidence was insufficient to conclude that the parents of the victim acted with depraved indifference by feeding the child food which resulted in the child’s severe malnutrition."

In 2012, the standard jury instructions were revised for the purpose of adding language from People v Lewie, 17 NY3d 348 (2011), on the meaning of depravity. [See the Standard Jury Instructions, text to footnote seven and eleven.]


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Definitions in New York's Felony Reckless Endangerment Statute

In the reckless endangerment statute, the term “recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person” is defined as when the person who is accused:

  • engages in conduct which creates a grave and unjustifiable risk that another person’s death will occur;
  • when he or she is aware of and consciously disregards that risk; and
  • when that grave and unjustifiable risk is of such nature and degree that disregard of it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.

It is not a crime if the reckless conduct merely results in a grave risk of death no matter how grave or substantial the risk of death. To constitute the crime of reckless endangerment, the evidence must also show that the defendant acted under circumstances "evincing a depraved indifference to human life."

In the reckless endangerment statute, the term “depraved indifference to human life” is defined as a person’s state of mind in recklessly engaging in conduct which creates a grave risk of death. The standard jury instructions provide that "a person has a depraved indifference to human life when that person has an utter disregard for the value of human life – a willingness to act, not because he or she means to cause grievous harm, but because he or she simply does not care whether or not grievous harm will result." The standard jury instructions also provide the following explanation:

In other words, a person who is depravedly indifferent is not just willing to take a grossly unreasonable risk to human life - - that person does not care how the risk turns out. Depraved indifference to human life reflects a wicked, evil or inhuman state of mind, as manifested by brutal, heinous and despicable acts. It is evinced by conduct that is wanton, deficient in a moral sense of concern, and devoid of regard for the life or lives of others.


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Reckless Endangerment and a Vulnerable Victim

In cases in which the court finds that the victim is "particularly vulnerable," the prosecutor might argue for a jury instruction that provides: 

..a person acts with a depraved indifference to human life when, having a conscious objective not to kill but to harm, he or she engages in torture or a brutal, prolonged and potentially fatal course of conduct….


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The Relevance of Voluntary Intoxication in Reckless Endangerment Prosecutions
 
Under New York's reckless endangerment statute, a person recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another when he or she creates the risk but is unaware of the risk solely by reason of his or her voluntary intoxication.

The standard jury instruction also provides, however, that the jury should be instructed that "in determining whether the defendant acted with depraved indifference to human life, you may consider whether the defendant's mind was affected by intoxicants to such a degree that he was incapable of forming the mental state of depraved indifference to human life.."


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Finding a Criminal Defense Attorney to Fight Charges of Reckless Endangerment

If you are being investigated for charges of reckless endangerment in New York City, contact Rochelle Berliner who represents clients accused of violent crimes throughout Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan or Brooklyn. Rochelle Berliner is an experienced Queens criminal defense attorney who understands how to aggressively fight charges of reckless endangerment under New York misdemeanor or felony statute.

Call Law Office of Rochelle S. Berliner at 718-261-5600 or submit an online form to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

Free Consultation

Submit your information using this form to schedule a free consultation with attorney Rochelle Berliner.

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