Police lights on a car
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on LinkedIn
By Michael Arbeit
Founding Attorney

Imagine that someone throws a wild party on their rooftop in the heart of New York City. Everyone may be having fun, but suddenly the host or one of the guests starts launching fireworks into the crowd below. That’s not just a lapse in judgment; it is now what the law calls reckless endangerment. This is when someone creates a considerable risk that they disregard any safety rules. So, next time you hear about a reckless endangerment case in the news, you’ll know that behind all the legal terminology, there’s a story of someone taking a risk that the law says went too far. 

Reckless Endangerment Classifications 

Reckless endangerment is a criminal offense in New York that involves engaging in conduct that creates a substantial risk of severe physical injury or death to another person. The New York Penal Law categorizes reckless endangerment into two degrees, each with specific elements that must be proven for a conviction.

  • Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree (New York Penal Law § 120.25): A person is guilty of reckless endangerment in the first degree when they recklessly engage in conduct that creates a grave risk of death to another person under circumstances that exhibit a depraved indifference to human life. The prosecution must prove that the defendant acted with “depraved indifference” to human life and that their conduct created a “grave risk of death.” This is a higher threshold than mere recklessness and requires completely disregarding human life.
  • Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree (New York Penal Law § 120.20): A person is guilty of reckless endangerment in the second degree when they recklessly engage in conduct that creates a substantial risk of severe physical injury to another person. The focus is on creating a substantial risk of serious physical injury through reckless actions. This does not require proving indifference to human life but requires actions beyond mere negligence.

Defenses and Legal Considerations Regarding Reckless Endangerment

  • Mens Rea (Intent): Both degrees require proving a particular state of mind. For the first degree, it is a “depraved indifference,” and for the second degree, “recklessness.” Proving the defendant’s mental state during the act is crucial.
  • Physical Injury vs. Grave Risk of Death: The distinction between the degrees often hinges on the potential outcome of the defendant’s actions—whether they could have led to severe injury or death.
  • Legal Defenses: Defendants might argue a lack of recklessness, accidental conduct without awareness of risk, or even necessity in some situations.

Notable Convictions on Long Island and New York In General For Reckless Endangerment

Reckless endangerment cases on Long Island often attract media attention, especially when they involve significant harm or potential harm to individuals or the public. Notable cases might include situations where individuals engaged in dangerous driving leading to severe accidents, discharged firearms in populated areas without intent to harm but with disregard for safety, or conducted hazardous operations (like illegal fireworks displays or unsafe construction practices) that put others at risk. Another situation in which you could face a charge of reckless endangerment is if you throw an object out of a window or over a balcony. That is exactly what the defendant did in People v. Green, 958 N.Y.S.2d 138 (2013). Defendant David Green admitted that, during the morning rush hour in August 2005, he threw bottles and plates from a 26th-floor hotel room overlooking 7th Avenue near Penn Station. He engaged in this dangerous behavior for no other reason than to amuse his friends. The defendant was convicted of reckless endangerment in the second degree.


Reckless endangerment refers to actions that recklessly put others at significant risk of bodily harm or death. This can include a broad range of behaviors, from dangerous driving to discharging a firearm in public spaces or any other actions that recklessly disregard the safety of others. Sentencing for reckless endangerment convictions reflects this diversity and can range from fines and probation to imprisonment. The more dangerous the action and the greater the potential for harm, the more severe the sentence will likely be. If you find yourself being charged with reckless endangerment, it is highly advisable to consult an attorney who is experienced in criminal defense. The law firm of Michael A. Arbeit, PC can vigorously fight for you based on your individual case. Contact our office for a consultation.

About the Author
Michael A. Arbeit, P.C. is devoted to all Criminal Defense and  Traffic related matters.  Michael practices primarily in the Criminal and County (Supreme) Courts in Nassau County, Suffolk County, Queens County, Kings County, New York County and the Bronx County.  Michael is also licensed to practice law in the Federal Courts of the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) and the Southern District of New York (SDNY).