According to the Washington Criminal Code, reckless endangerment is defined as “conduct… that creates a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to others.” But that statute can be interpreted differently, as a recent court case illustrates.
In May of 2012, a King County Sheriff's Deputy in Burien spotted a reported stolen vehicle as it zoomed past him at approximately 75 miles per hour (roughly twice the speed limit) in a highly-trafficked area. The deputy pulled the car over about four blocks later, and the female driver of the car, A.R., was arrested. Her blood alcohol level measured over .18 in two BAC tests conducted about an hour later. There was also a seven-year old child in the front seat of the car.
Rich was eventually found guilty of driving under the influence and reckless endangerment, but she appealed the verdict to the Court of Appeals. Even though the appellate court upheld the DUI, it dismissed the reckless endangerment conviction because the justices held that her actions did not meet the conditions necessary to sustain the charge.
However, the Washington Supreme Court overturned the appeals court decision and ruled that there was sufficient evidence to convict AR of reckless endangerment. Even though no specific evidence of erratic driving was presented, the high court said that because AR was driving while intoxicated at a high rate of speed through traffic with a child in the front seat, the state did have enough evidence to support the verdict. In its decision, the Supreme Court noted that while evidence of either DUI or speeding by itself does not necessarily constitute reckless endangerment, the combination of those two factors, along with driving in traffic with a young child in the front seat, was enough for a reasonable juror to conclude that AR created a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to others.