Reckless Endangerment of a Child
It is illegal in Massachusetts to engage in reckless conduct that endangers the safety of a child. In order to prove a defendant guilty under the reckless endangerment statute, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- The defendant engaged in reckless or wanton conduct;
- The reckless or wanton conduct resulted in a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the victim would suffer sexual abuse or a serious bodily injury; and
- The victim was under the age of 18.
- Sexual abuse includes rape, indecent assault and battery, and a number of other sex crimes.
- Serious bodily injury is any injury that causes a substantial risk of death, an extended impairment of a limb, organ, or bodily function, or permanent disfigurement.
- Reckless conduct occurs when the defendant is aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk of sexual abuse or serious bodily injury but disregards the risk. In disregarding the risk, the defendant has grossly deviated from a reasonable person’s standard of conduct. The Commonwealth does not need to prove the defendant’s conduct was intentional but must prove it was more than simple negligence (acting in a manner that a reasonable person would not act).
A defendant can also be convicted of reckless endangerment of a child if he failed to eliminate a substantial risk to a child when he had a duty to act. Parents, guardians, teachers, and babysitters all have a responsibility to prevent children under their care from being exposed to substantial risks of sexual assaults or serious bodily injuries.
A reckless endangerment conviction is serious and carries a potential penalty of up to two and a half years in jail. What type of conduct qualifies under the statute?
- A drunk driver who has a child in the car with him will almost always be charged with recklessly endangering a child.
- An adult who allows a child to play in an unsafe manner (for example: skateboard without a helmet; swim in a quarry without adult supervision; or throw a ball near a busy street) could face criminal liability under the reckless endangerment statute.
- Allowing a child to do something unreasonably dangerous even under adult supervision (such as walk along the railroad tracks) could also form the basis for a conviction.
- There have been recent high-profile cases where parents of teenagers have been charged with reckless endangerment of a child for hosting underage drinking parties. The police typically get involved in these situations when a teenager becomes sick from drinking too much. When a teenager is taken to the hospital for alcohol poisoning, it’s not unusual for the hospital staff to call the police. Underage parties are also exposed when a teenager drives away and gets into a car accident. In defending these types of cases, there is usually a dispute as to whether the parents were aware there were teenagers drinking in their home. Unless the parents were actually drinking with their kids, it’s often difficult for the Commonwealth to prove they knew about the drinking and failed to stop it.