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Is "reckless endangerment” a crime in California?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Jun 26, 2019 | 0 Comments

car driving fast around a corner past a stop sign

Reckless endangerment, in and of itself, does not have its own statutory law in California. This means that if a person acts with reckless endangerment, he cannot be charged under a penal code section entitled “reckless endangerment.” But the act is part of common law and can be criminal in nature and may result in charges being brought under other statutes.

“Reckless endangerment” refers to an act that creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person.

Examples of when an act of reckless endangerment can lead to criminal charges include times when the act involves:

What is ‘reckless endangerment?”

Reckless endangerment, which is sometimes referred to as criminal endangerment, is an act that creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person.

While this act can sometimes be intentional, it can also be an act where a person did not intend to cause injury or harm.

An example of an incident of reckless endangerment is when an adult leaves a child in a locked car, with the windows rolled up, that is parked directly in the hot sun.

Note that reckless endangerment is not a statutory law in California. This means while the act itself cannot lead to criminal charges per a given statute, the act can be criminal in nature and may result in charges being brought under other statutes.

Examples of when an act of reckless endangerment can lead to criminal charges include:

  • California DUI with a child under 14 in the car, per VC 23572,
  • child endangerment, per PC 273a,
  • elder abuse, per PC 368,
  • reckless driving, per VC 23103.

What is California DUI with a child under 14 in the car, per Vehicle Code 23572?

Vehicle Code 23572 is the California statute that provides a sentencing enhancement for defendants who drive under the influence with a child under the age of fourteen in the car.

This enhancement consists of additional mandatory jail time (on top of standard California DUI penalties). In particular, VC 23572 imposes a punishment of:

  • 48 hours in county jail for a first DUI conviction,
  • 10 days in county jail for a second DUI conviction,
  • 30 days in jail for a third DUI conviction, and
  • 90 days in jail for a fourth or subsequent misdemeanor DUI conviction.

What is child endangerment, per Penal Code 273a?

Penal Code 273a is California's criminal “child endangerment” law. It punishes someone who willfully exposes a child to pain, suffering, or danger.

Examples of reckless endangering behavior that can lead to child endangerment charges in California include:

  • leaving a dangerous weapon, such as a knife or a loaded firearm, where a child can easily reach it,
  • leaving a minor with a babysitter who has a history of abusive behavior, or
  • failing to get medical treatment for a very sick child.

Punishment under PC 273a depends on whether the risk to the child included death or “great bodily injury.”

If there was no possibility of either, Penal Code 273a is a California misdemeanor crime. Penalties for misdemeanor child endangerment can include:

  • up to one year in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.

What is elder abuse, per Penal Code 368?

Penal Code 368 is California's elder abuse statute and it cover a variety of crimes and can be applied in a variety of situations.

In the context of acts of reckless endangerment, PC 368 makes it a crime for a person to neglect and endanger an elder person. This typically means willfully placing the elder or dependent adult in a situation where his/her health or safety is jeopardized.

A clear example of this type of offense is an adult son who deliberately withholds medication that he is supposed to give to his elderly mother.

A violation of PC 368 is a wobbler offense under California law. This means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

When elder abuse is prosecuted as a misdemeanor, potential penalties include:

  • up to one year in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of $1,000.

If it is prosecuted as a felony, a defendant may be sentenced to state prison for between two to four years.

What is reckless driving, per Vehicle Code 23103?

Vehicle Code 23103 is California's law on “reckless driving.” It makes it a crime for a motorist to drive with a wanton disregard for the safety of people or property (i.e., drive in a reckless endangering manner).

Under California law, a person acts with a “wanton disregard for safety” when:

  • he or she is aware that his or her actions present a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm, and
  • he or she intentionally ignores that risk.

If a violation of VC 23103 occurs, and no one other than the reckless driver is injured, then the violation is charged as a California misdemeanor. The offense is punishable by:

  • five to 90 days in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of between $145 and $1,000.

But the possible jail sentence and fine increase if the reckless driving causes an injury. Also note that any reckless driving conviction will add two points to the driver's California DMV record.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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