New York Penal Code 120.25: Reckless Endangerment First Degree
Reckless endangerment in the first degree is a serious felony charge in New York that can lead to years in prison. This article will explain what constitutes reckless endangerment first degree, potential penalties, and possible defenses.
What is Reckless Endangerment First Degree?
Under New York Penal Code 120.25, a person is guilty of reckless endangerment first degree when they recklessly engage in conduct that shows a “depraved indifference to human life” and creates a “grave risk of death” to another person.
This is different from reckless endangerment second degree, which is a misdemeanor. Reckless endangerment first degree is a class D felony.
Some key aspects of the law:
- Recklessly engaging in conduct – The prosecution must prove the defendant was aware of and consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk their conduct could lead to someone’s death.
- Depraved indifference to human life – This means the defendant showed an utter disregard for human life and was willing to engage in dangerous conduct not to intentionally harm but simply without regard for possible fatal consequences.
- Grave risk of death – The defendant’s actions must have created a grave and unjustifiable risk that someone could die. Even if no one was actually injured, the risk itself is enough.
Some examples of reckless endangerment first degree charges:
- Firing a gun into a crowd
- Driving at extremely high speeds through city streets
- Abandoning someone in a remote place without food, water or shelter
- Severely beating someone and leaving them unconscious
The main distinction from manslaughter charges is that the defendant did not intend to kill the victim. But their depraved indifference to human life led them to engage in conduct that created a grave risk of death.
Penalties and Sentencing
Reckless endangerment first degree is a class D felony punishable by up to 7 years in prison. Actual sentencing depends on:
- Defendant’s criminal history
- Acceptance of responsibility
- Facts of the case
With no prior felonies, a judge may sentence the defendant to probation. But any prior felonies will likely lead to years in state prison.
Other possible penalties include:
- Fines up to $5,000
- Restitution to victims
- Community service
- Probation supervision
A reckless endangerment conviction also leads to a permanent felony record that can impact jobs, housing, and other opportunities. Certain professional licenses may be revoked. Non-citizens charged with reckless endangerment could face deportation.
There are several possible defenses if charged with reckless endangerment first degree:
No reckless conduct – If the defendant’s actions were reasonable and cautious given the circumstances, there was no recklessness.
No risk of death – If the defendant’s conduct could not have plausibly led to someone’s death, there was no “grave risk.”
No depraved indifference – If the defendant did not act with utter disregard for human life, but instead took some precautions, they did not show “depraved indifference.”
Self-defense – The conduct was legally justified as self-defense against an attacker.
False allegations – If the defendant can show the allegations are exaggerated or blatantly false, the charges could be dismissed.
There have been some high-profile reckless endangerment cases in New York:
- In 1984, Bernhard Goetz was charged with reckless endangerment for shooting four unarmed black teenagers on a subway who he claimed were trying to rob him. He was acquitted of the reckless endangerment charges but convicted on illegal gun possession.
- In 2015, an 11-year old boy brought a loaded gun to his after-school program in Harlem and accidentally fired it, injuring two students. He was charged with first-degree reckless endangerment.
- In 2018, rapper 6ix9ine (real name Daniel Hernandez) pleaded guilty to the use of a child in a sexual performance from a 2015 case involving a 13-year old girl. He was also convicted on charges of third-degree rape and second-degree reckless endangerment for his involvement.
- In 2022, actor Alec Baldwin was charged with two counts of reckless endangerment for the accidental fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the movie set Rust in 2021.