Maryland’s statute prohibiting “reckless endangerment” makes it a crime to “recklessly” (1) engage in conduct that creates a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another,” OR (2) “discharge a firearm from a motor vehicle in a manner that creates a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another.” The offense is a misdemeanor that has a maximum penalty of up to five years of incarceration and/or a fine of up to $5,000. Because the language of the statute is very broad, encompassing and unlimited array of conduct, it is sometimes used as a “catch all” crime for risky conduct that is not specifically prohibited by some other statute. It was enacted primarily to address risky conduct involving firearms. For example, playing Russian roulette with a handgun would make all of the participants subject to prosecution for reckless endangerment. Leaving a loaded gun accessible to a young child could get prosecuted as well.
But the charge is not limited to conduct involving firearms. That can be frustrating because any conduct that a police officer or prosecutor thinks is dangerous or stupid might get prosecuted as reckless endangerment. Young people (and grown adults) sometimes engage in somewhat risky behavior. If no one gets hurt, the adventure may just be a fond memory. But if someone does get hurt and an ambulance is called (along with the police), someone who encouraged or participated in the activity might get charged with reckless endangerment. Sometimes the scenarios that get charged are absurd. Several times we have had to defend teenagers who pointed toy guns (on one occasion a red water pistol) at cars on the roadways. The governments’ theory usually is that the pointing of the toy gun might alarm the driver, who might then take evasive action and then collide with another car, thereby potentially causing injuries. In such cases, every detail of the event becomes extremely important to persuade a judge or jury that, even though there may have been some risk, there is insufficient proof of a “substantial risk” as required by the statute.
The reckless endangerment statute is useful if everyone could be educated about the law. It does force people to think about their actions and consider (1) what could go wrong; and (2) could people get hurt if something goes wrong. It is important to note that the reckless endangerment law does not apply to conduct in which the defendant is using a vehicle in a reckless manner. Such conduct could be prosecuted as “reckless driving” or other more serious offenses depending on the circumstances. If you have been charged with reckless endangerment, you may want to call us for a free consultation.