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Endangerment Laws in Arizona

You could be charged with endangerment in Arizona when you put another person at risk of serious injury or death. Endangerment is a Class 6 felony that could see you spend up to two years in prison. One thing you want to do when facing these charges is to learn as much as possible about the crime and what to expect. Phoenix Criminal Attorney works with clients facing various crimes such as endangerment in Phoenix. Get in touch with us so that we can defend you.

Overview and Legal Definition of Endangerment

According to ARS 13-1201, endangerment is the crime of:

  • Committing a reckless act
  • That puts another person at the risk of physical injury or imminent death

According to the statute, a reckless action is committed with a conscious disregard for the substantial and unjustifiable risk it puts on another person. When one commits a reckless action, they act in a way that a reasonable person wouldn't under similar circumstances.

Sometimes, you could be charged with additional or specific offenses depending on the circumstances of the case. For example, if you used a dangerous instrument to commit a reckless act, you could be charged with a dangerous offense.

The prosecution could also charge you with vehicular endangerment if the risk you introduced arose from you driving a vehicle. Vehicular endangerment also carries the potential of additional charges, such as DUI charges, if you were driving drunk. 

Some of the actions that could result in endangerment charges include:

  • Handling weapons carelessly
  • Shooting a gun in a public place

You could also be charged with endangerment charges if you put a child at risk of injury or death by engaging in a reckless action. Arizona does not have a specific child endangerment law. Therefore, the crime is punished under endangerment laws.

Some of the actions that are considered child endangerment include:

  • Failing to keep weapons out of a child’s reach
  • Leaving a child unattended in a vehicle
  • Leaving a child without supervision
  • Failing to report suspected or known child abuse
  • Failing to protect a child from a known threat
  • Caring for a child while under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Child endangerment is a less serious offense compared to Child abuse which occurs when you intentionally or knowingly:

  • Inflict physical injury on a child
  • Allow another person to harm a child physically, or
  • Place a child in a situation that exposes them to harm

Note that you can face both endangerment and child abuse charges depending on the circumstances of the offense.

Penalties of Endangerment

Endangerment is a wobbler offense. The prosecution can charge it as a felony or a misdemeanor. You will likely be charged with a Class 6 felony if the offense creates a substantial risk of immediate death to the victim.

As a felony, endangerment carries a maximum of two years in state prison.

Where the offense did not create a substantial and unjustifiable risk, the prosecution will likely charge you with a Class 1 misdemeanor. The misdemeanor charge carries a sentence of up to six months in jail.

Fighting Charges of Endangerment

You have the right to defend yourself in court if facing "endangerment" charges. Work with a reputable attorney with demonstrable results defending others in court. A good defense focuses on challenging the elements of the offense and the evidence presented.

Some of the defenses you can use for endangerment include:

1. You Did Not Commit a Reckless Act

You are only guilty of endangerment if you committed a reckless act that placed another person at an unjustifiable risk of injury or death. However, if the action was not reckless, then you cannot be charged with endangerment.

The court often has different interpretations of what actions constitute reckless actions. Therefore, the prosecution has the burden to prove that your action was reckless.

Some of the actions that the court might consider reckless include:

  • Speeding in a school zone
  • Speeding in a residential neighborhood
  • Drunk driving

If the prosecution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your actions were reckless, your charges will be dismissed.

2. Nor Risk of Injury or Imminent Death

Endangerment becomes a crime because your actions cause a substantial and unjustifiable risk of injury or death to another person. However, if there wasn't a risk of injury or death, you cannot be guilty of endangerment.

3. You Acted out of Necessity

Endangerment only becomes a crime when you engage in a reckless activity that presents a substantial and unjustifiable risk of injury or death. However, your charges could be dropped if you were engaging in reckless activity out of necessity.

For example, if you are speeding to get your child or loved one to the emergency room, you can use this as a defense to your charges.

4. Involuntary Intoxication

This defense could work where you committed an endangering act while intoxicated. If you were drugged involuntarily, under duress, or fraud, then you can cite involuntary intoxication as a defense.

Note that this is an affirmative defense where you agree that you endangered another person, but that only happened due to involuntary intoxication. Also, voluntary intoxication cannot be used as a defense to endangerment charges.

Related Offenses

Endangerment charges can be brought against you when the prosecution believes that your actions were negligent and created an unjustifiable risk of injury. Depending on the circumstances of the crime, you could be charged with other crimes, including vehicular manslaughter and negligent homicide.

1. Vehicular Manslaughter (ARS 13-1103)

Endangerment can be charged as vehicular manslaughter is a reckless action while driving that caused another person's death. Vehicular manslaughter can arise when

  • You were driving recklessly, causing the death of another person or
  • You knowingly or intentionally kill another person using a vehicle in the heat of the moment following adequate provocation by the victim

The law considers heat of passion actions to be those inspired by rage, anger, or another intense emotion. They are often actions that are not thought of beforehand or premeditated by the perpetrator.

You could also be charged with vehicular manslaughter if you were driving while intoxicated at the time of the offense. Vehicular manslaughter is a class 2 felony with a potential jail sentence of four to ten years.

2. Negligent Homicide (ARS 13-1102)

When you commit a reckless action that kills another person, you could be charged with negligent homicide instead of endangerment.

Negligent homicide occurs when you commit a criminally negligent action resulting in another person's death or an unborn child. Arizona laws define criminal negligence as actions committed without considering the substantial and unjustifiable risks that these actions create.

Criminally negligent actions deviate from the standard of care that a reasonable person under similar circumstances would exercise.

Some criminally negligent actions include:

  • Leaving a child in a locked car in the hot sun, leading to their death
  • Leaving a young child unattended at the pool
  • Handling a gun negligently, resulting in a shot that kills someone else

 Negligent homicide is a class 4 felony with a prison sentence of up to three years and a fine of up to $150,000.

Endangerment Criminal Court Process in Arizona

Understanding the criminal court process can make it easier for you as you know what to anticipate in the coming weeks or months when your criminal case is ongoing. Here are the steps in the criminal court process in Arizona:

1. Arrest

The arrest is often the first stage of the criminal court process. It can occur in several ways:

  • Somebody reports a crime
  • The police officer witnesses you committing a crime
  • The police launch an investigation before arresting you and have an arrest warrant

An arrest occurs when the police believe they have evidence that you may have committed the offense. The police will bring you to the police station for booking and processing, then submit the evidence to the prosecuting agency.

The moment you are arrested is the best time to contact an attorney. An attorney will guide you on your rights during the interrogation process (if any) and start gathering the relevant evidence to fight your charges.

Once the police submit the evidence to the prosecuting agency, the agency will decide on whether to file charges. The decision to file charges is based on a review of the evidence and police reports regarding the offense.

The prosecution can file formal charges against you in two different ways:

  • An indictment by a grand jury
  • A direct complaint

The prosecution files a direct complaint with a judge, who then determines whether there's enough evidence to charge the offender. The judge may then issue a summons and an arrest warrant if they find the prosecution to have sufficient evidence.

A grand jury consists of nine US citizens selected at random. They convene to determine whether the prosecution's evidence is sufficient to indict the offender. They will deliver an indictment if they determine that the prosecution has sufficient evidence.

2. Initial Hearing

The timing of the initial appearance depends on whether you are kept in custody. Where you are in custody, the court must initiate the initial hearing within 24 hours.

During the initial appearance, the judge or commissioner will:

  • Inform you of the charges against you
  • Advise you on your right to legal representation
  • Advise you on any conditions of release/bail
  • The setting of the bail (where the court will consider your flight risk and the risk you pose to society)

3. Arraignment

During the arraignment, you will enter your pela as "guilty," "not guilty," or "no contest." Following a "not guilty" or "no contest" plea, the court will set a date for the pretrial proceedings or trial.

4. Pretrial Conference

During the pretrial conference, the prosecution and defense meet. You and your attorney will get the opportunity to review the complaint report and the evidence the prosecution uses to bring charges against you.

During the pretrial conference, the prosecution may offer sentence agreements for a guilty or no contest plea. The prosecution will present the agreement to the judge for approval if you accept this agreement.

Following the offer from the prosecution, you reserve the right to maintain your initial plea and proceed to trial.

5. Trial

When a case is unsettled during the pretrial conferences, it proceeds to trial. The trial begins with the opening statements from the prosecution and defense. The prosecution gives its opening statement first, providing an overview of the case and the facts to be presented during the trial.

The opening statements from the prosecution are a way to let the jury know what the case involves so that they can follow along during the case.

In some cases, the defense attorney may hold off on giving the opening statement until the beginning of the defense’s case.

Once the opening statements are out of the way, the prosecution will begin a direct examination of witnesses where present. All witnesses will provide evidence under oath that they are being truthful.

The prosecution will also present evidence to the court as long as it meets the Arizona Rules of Evidence provisions. The defense attorney will also ask the witnesses questions (cross-examination) to get to the truth.

The defense team will also call on witnesses and question them to prove their defense theory. The prosecution, in turn, will cross-examine the witnesses brought by the defense.

In some cases, the prosecution or defense may reexamine the witness to get additional information or clarify previously presented information. Sometimes, the other attorney may also re-cross-examine the witnesses.

Both the prosecution and defense attorney have the right to challenge the evidence presented, including pushing for its exclusion from the admissible evidence.

Once the defense and prosecution present their cases and witnesses, they issue closing statements. Closing statements give the defense and prosecution a chance to speak to the jury one last time by summarizing their strongest arguments for or against the defendant.

Following the closing argument, the judge will instruct the jury on the laws they must follow when deliberating on their verdict. The jury then moves to a jury deliberating room.

During the deliberations, the jury must choose a foreperson to lead the process and sign the verdict. They then review the evidence and facts of the case before making a law- and evidence-based decision. Once they finish their deliberations, the court resumes the session.

Once the court resumes, the foreman will present a written and signed jury verdict. If the jury finds the defendant guilty, the case proceeds to a sentencing hearing, or you are released if found not guilty.

6. Sentencing

The focus of a sentencing hearing is to determine the most appropriate punishment for the offense you committed. The sentencing comes right after you plead guilty at the arraignment, take a plea deal, or when you are found guilty at trial.

Since endangerment can be a felony, you will most likely remain in custody awaiting the sentencing hearing. In some cases, you may be released on bail with the condition that you appear for the sentencing hearing.

During the sentencing, the judge will issue a sentence within the minimum and maximum penalties allowed by the law for endangerment charges.

In some cases, the judge may hold a pre-sentencing hearing where the prosecution and defense present evidence on what penalties the defendant should receive.

The goal of the presenting hearing is to present any aggravating and mitigating factors around the crime. Your attorney will present any mitigating evidence that argues for a more lenient sentence.

In addition to the defense and prosecution statements, the court allows you (the defendant) to testify.

7. Appeal

You have the right to appeal a conviction if you are found guilty of an offense in Arizona. The criminal appeals process seeks to have a higher court review the trial that led to your conviction. For a misdemeanor endangerment conviction, you should file an appeal with the Superior Court or the Court of Appeals if you were convicted of a felony.

Each defendant is entitled to an appeal unless the conviction resulted from a plea deal. Most appeals are brought to higher courts when:

  • You believe that you were wrongfully convicted
  • You had inadequate legal counsel
  • You have new evidence that proves your innocence, and that evidence was unavailable during the trial.

Note: appeals are time-sensitive and must be filed within the required timeline to be considered. You must file a Notice of Appeal within 30 days of the “guilty” verdict.

Due to the time-sensitivity of appeals, you should work with a qualified attorney to ensure that you meet the deadlines and file the required documents.

Appealing a conviction can have several outcomes:

  • The court upholds the previous court’s decision
  • The court agrees with the lower court's judgment but modifies the sentence
  • The court orders a new trial
  • You are acquitted of the charges

Find a Phoenix Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

You could be charged with endangerment if you committed an act that creates an unjustifiable risk of injury or death to another person. Endangerment could arise in various scenarios, resulting in one or more charges. For instance, if you are speeding in a school zone, you could be charged with reckless driving and endangerment. If you or a loved one are facing these charges, contact Phoenix Criminal Attorney at 602-551-8092 for legal counsel and representation during the criminal court process.

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