Colorado’s charge of Reckless Endangerment (C.R.S. 18-3-208) is a very short statute. It simply states, “A person who recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to another person commits reckless endangerment, which is a class 3 misdemeanor.”
If it seems like the terms of this statue are open for interpretation, you are right. Sometimes, Colorado lawmakers use subjective language so judges, magistrates or juries (also known as triers of fact) are able to apply their own sense of reason to each case. While it can be useful, it can also have negative consequences.
What is “Reckless” in Reckless Endangerment?
People in Denver, Jefferson or Adams County will agree that it is reckless to drive on I-25 with a person sitting on the hood of a car. However, not everyone will agree that driving with someone in the bed of a pickup truck is a reckless act. What if it is a 16 year old? Some think it reckless and some don’t. There are plenty of examples of things we disagree on. Shouldn’t the law on Reckless Endangerment be more precise?
What is a Substantial Risk?
Everyone views risk differently. I ride a motorcycle, and for the enjoyment I get from riding I am willing to accept more risk than those who don’t. I realize I am more likely to suffer substantial bodily injury then if I drove a car, but the additional risk is worth it to me. To mitigate my risk I always wear a helmet when riding. However, I have friends who don’t. The point is, we all have different ideas of what substantial risk is.
When I was a kid, I didn’t know anyone who wore a seatbelt, and strapping a child into a safety seat was considered cruel and unusual punishment. And what about bicycle helmets, ski helmets, and body armor for roller skates? There are countless examples of what used to be considered acceptable levels of risk which are now thought to be extremely dangerous. Not only do these standards change with time, they also differ depending on where we live. Compare an eastern Colorado ranch vs. downtown Denver.
What’s the Problem?
The problem with subjectivity in our laws is that it becomes difficult to predict what is permissible and what is not. Consequently, decent people live with uncertainty and sometimes end up in court fighting charges like Reckless Endangerment simply because a prosecutor has a different idea of what is “reckless” and what is a “substantial risk”. In the real world, this is a problem because any criminal record will have a negative impact on employment and housing, resulting in lifelong punishment for minor infractions of the law.
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