What is Arizona’s Endangerment Law?
Endangerment under Arizona law covers a wide range of actions and is subject to interpretation. If a prosecutor believes that an action is unreasonably dangerous, it can be charged as endangerment. Nobody needs to actually be injured. As a result, endangerment is one of the most over charged crimes in the state.
Because the definition is vague, having the right defense attorney can make the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.
A.R.S. § 13-1201 Defined
ARS 13-1201 provides the definition for the crime of endangerment in Arizona. The law states,
- “A person commits endangerment by recklessly endangering another person with a substantial risk of imminent death or physical injury.”
Endangerment that involves “substantial risk of imminent death” is a class 6 felony. If the endangerment only involves a “substantial risk of physical injury,” the crime is classified as a class 1 misdemeanor.
What is “Reckless” Endangerment?
As you can see from the way the law is written, “endangerment” is a rather vague term, and it begs a few questions, such as “What does it mean to act recklessly?” Thankfully, this definition has been clarified not only by statute but also by case law.
- “Recklessly” means that the person is aware of and consciously disregards a “substantial and unjustifiable risk” that the “result will occur or the circumstances exist.” ARS 13-105. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that disregarding it is a “gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.” In other words, nobody with any good sense would take the risk.
Example: Imagine that there are two drivers in sports cars that decide they want to drag race down a street. Now imagine the street where they are drag racing is in a school zone, class just got out, and children are walking around all over the place. Neither driver intends to hit a student, but there is a “substantial” risk that this could happen. The risk is also “unjustifiable” because there is no good reason that the drivers need to drag race, let alone do so in a school zone–they aren’t driving to get somebody to the hospital, for instance. The drivers’ actions would therefore be reckless.
In State v. Gallegos, the Arizona Supreme Court explained that “voluntary intoxication” will not negate a reckless mental state. That means that if a person is unaware of a risk only because of voluntary intoxication, they are still guilty or reckless conduct.
In fact, it is often the case that endangerment charges go along with DUI charges because alcohol impairment can often lead to reckless decision making.
Penalties for Endangerment
As we discussed above, reckless can be classified as either a class 1 misdemeanor or a class 6 felony. The following are potential punishments for endangerment depending on how it is classified:
- Up 6 months in jail.
- Up to $2500 in fines.
- Victim restitution.
- Up to 2 years in prison.
- Up to $150,000 in fines.
- Victim restitution.
Defenses to Endangerment
- No risk of death or serious physical injury: The state would need to prove that your behavior presented an actual risk of death or serious physical injury beyond a reasonable doubt. Like any crime, this presents a high burden to the prosecutor. While the state does not need to show guilty beyond any possible doubt, the jury must acquit if there is a “real possibility” that the defendant is innocent. A skilled defense attorney will analyze all the state’s evidence, conduct an investigation, and determine where the state’s case is weak. Often, the state will base its conclusion that the defendant’s behavior is reckless based on the arresting officer’s opinion. A defense attorney can cross-examine the arresting officer to pick apart the basis for his belief that the defendant’s actions were actually reckless.
Example: The police arrest the defendant for driving 20 mph over the speed limit on a street. The prosecutor decides to charge not only speeding, but also adds an endangerment charge. The surrounding circumstances of the arrest show there were no other cars around at the time of the arrest and there were no pedestrians on the street. This case should be dismissed because there was nobody else around that could have been harmed by the fast driving. There also is no evidence that merely driving fast under the circumstances was unsafe.
- Justifiable risk: The crime of endangerment requires that a person act “recklessly.” To prove that conduct was reckless, the prosecutor would have to show that a person acted to disregard and “unjustifiable” risk. There could be circumstances which make a person’s actions, although risky, nevertheless justifiable given the facts. For example, speeding might be risky behavior, but it could be justifiable if you are rushing a dying person to the emergency room.
- Involuntary intoxication: Although voluntary intoxication is not a defense to endangerment, involuntary intoxication is. Arizona law, ARS 13-105, states that if drugs or intoxicating chemicals are introduced into the body “pursuant to medical advice or under duress” this is an affirmative defense. Therefore, if you were drugged or if you were taking prescription medication pursuant to your doctor’s orders, this can be used to fight the endangerment charges.
If the state bases its case against you on your speed or your blood alcohol concentration (BAC), there are also arguments that we can make to attack the state’s evidence. For example, for some newer cars it’s possible to obtain the black box to determine the speed and RPMs of the vehicle during the time of the stop. This can show that you were driving at safe speeds and refute the officer’s claims of recklessness. Forensic analysis of blood and breath samples can also be used to challenge the validity of the state’s BAC determination.
How Salwin Law Can Help You
If you’ve been charged with endangerment, whether it is a misdemeanor or felony, you can be facing serious consequences. Salwin Law offers a free consultation