Reckless Endangerment in New York – NY Penal Law 120.20: When Does Acting Recklessly Constitute a Crime in NY?

Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree (New York Penal Law 120.20) is a misdemeanor crime routinely handled by both prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers in New York City and the region. Although seemingly straight forward, the law not only has terms that have their own meaning, but cases that have decided how and when the law is applied. This entry will be the first in a series of “primers” on Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree (NY PL 120.20). Future entries will address the law as well as the “felony version” of Reckless Endangerment pursuant to New York Penal Law 120.25.

Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree – NY PL 120.20

Simply put, if one engages in conduct that is reckless and that conduct creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury, then one is guilty of Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree.

It is critical to note that the statute requires not only a “substantial risk,” but that the injury that may occur be “serious physical injury.” A black eye, split lip or similar injury is not enough to meet the requirements and elements of Reckless Endangerment. The New York Penal Law defines “serious physical injury” as the type of injury that “creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes death or serious and protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.”

In addition to the level of injury as addressed above, the potential serious physical injury must be both foreseeable and the defendant’s conduct must actually create a risk of that injury. Although there are plenty of legal decisions addressing when one’s conduct amounts to Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree, a recent decision by a Manhattan Criminal Court Judge highlights what is required. In People v. Beam, 2 Misc.3d 306 (N.Y. Crim. Ct. 2008), an information (complaint) alleged that the defendant ran into traffic to avoid the police while cars were in motion. In dismissing the information as insufficient, the court stated:

“It is certainly possible, and possibly even somewhat likely, that defendant or another person might have experienced some sort of injury from an automobile accident caused by defendant’s sudden and swift entry in to the roadway. Nevertheless, on the facts alleged, this court can neither find nor infer that a substantial and unjustifiable risk of serious physical injury was created by defendant’s hasty jay-walking. In order to establish that defendant engaged in reckless endangerment, the risk created by a defendant’s conduct must be foreseeable ( see People v. Reagan, 256 A.D.2d 487, 683 N.Y.S.2d 543 [2d Dept.1998] ) and the conduct must actually create a risk of serious physical injury ( see In re Kysean D.S., 285 A.D.2d 994, 728 N.Y.S.2d 323 [4th Dept.2001] ). Accordingly, the count is dismissed.”

This initial “primer” for the New York crime of Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree should be just enough for a general understanding of the crime. In the event you are charged with this offense (it is punishable by up to one year in jail) you should consult with legal counsel to ascertain whether the elements have been established by the prosecution and what your best defense may be.

Saland Law PC is a New York criminal defense firm founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors. Based in lower Manhattan, Saland Law PC represents clients throughout the New York City region. For further information on the New York Penal Law, recent legal decisions and newsworthy cases, please review the New York Criminal Lawyer Blog at NewYorkCriminalLawyerBlog.Com or the Saland Law PC website.

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