What is Wanton Endangerment and What is the Difference between First and Second-Degree Wanton Endangerment?
One of the defining elements of many criminal offenses is the state of mind of the accused at the time the alleged offense was committed. For example, if someone commits a homicide with malicious intent (i.e., the intent to kill or cause serious bodily injury), they can be charged with murder. If, on the other hand, the offender killed someone unintentionally, they would likely be charged with a lesser offense, such as manslaughter or reckless homicide. There are some crimes, however, that fall into more of a grey area between negligence and intent. In Kentucky, one example of such a crime is “wanton endangerment.”
What is Wanton Endangerment?
In most cases, people can largely identify what is prohibited under the law by the name of the offense. For example, we generally know what the crime is when someone is charged with drug possession, drug trafficking, DUI, robbery, rape or murder. Wanton endangerment is a little more difficult to define. Kentucky statutes define “wantonly” this way:
A person acts wantonly with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.
Wantonly can be seen as an understanding of the risk (“is aware of and consciously”) and negligent (“disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk”). The fact of “disregarding” can be seen as a negligent act.
What is the Difference between First Degree and Second-Degree Wanton Endangerment?
Kentucky has two types of wanton endangerment; First-Degree and Second Degree:
- First-Degree Wanton Endangerment: “A person is guilty of wanton endangerment in the first degree when, under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, he wantonly engages in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person” (KRS 508.060). First-degree wanton endangerment is a Class D felony, punishable with fines of up to $10,000 and up to five years in prison.
- Second-Degree Wanton Endangerment: “A person is guilty of wanton endangerment in the second degree when he wantonly engages in conduct which creates a substantial danger of physical injury to another person” (KRS 508.070). Second-degree wanton endangerment is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable with fines of up to $500 and up to 12 months in county jail.
When is Someone Usually Charged with Wanton Endangerment?
There are many circumstances which can trigger a charge of first or second-degree wanton endangerment. Here are a few examples:
- Pointing a Gun at Someone: This is one of the most common acts that may cause someone to be charged with wanton endangerment, and it can occur in a wide variety of settings, such as drug deals, domestic disputes, encounters with a police officer, and many others.
- Firing a Weapon: Another frequent act of wanton endangerment is firing a weapon at an individual (or individuals) or shooting in their direction. Late last year, a Marshall County woman was convicted of one felony count of first-degree wanton endangerment and four misdemeanor counts of second-degree wanton endangerment when she fired warning shots at five individuals (one on an ATV and four on a UTV) who were trespassing on her own property.
- DUI: Wanton endangerment charges sometimes accompany a drunk driving arrest. According to Kentucky law, “A person who creates such a risk but is unaware thereof solely by reason of voluntary intoxication also acts wantonly with respect thereto.” This can occur when a drunk driver runs another car off the road, or when the intoxicated driver has passengers in their own vehicle who become endangered, especially children.
Charged with Wanton Endangerment? Speak with an Experienced Kentucky Criminal Defense Lawyer
Wanton endangerment may be a difficult offense to define, but the consequences for a conviction can still be severe. You could face jail time and heavy fines even if you are found guilty of wanton endangerment in the second degree. If you are facing either of these charges, you need strong legal counsel in your corner aggressively advocating for your rights and interests.
Attorney Ron Aslam has in-depth experience successfully defending individuals charged with all types of criminal offenses in Kentucky. Ron is a former prosecutor who has worked for several years on both sides of the fence. Ron understands the mindset of the prosecutors, and he knows many of them personally. He also knows the most effective defense strategies (based on the specific circumstances of your case) to employ to minimize the negative consequences as much as possible. Call our office today at 502-581-1676 to schedule an initial consultation with Attorney Ron Aslam. You may send us a message through our online contact form or stop by our Louisville office in person at your convenience.