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New York Reckless Endangerment and Fire

Reckless endangerment is a criminal offense that involves conduct that creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person. To face this charge it is not necessary that you intended to harm another person. It is only necessary that you acted in a way that showed a disregard for the foreseeable harmful consequences of your actions. Such a crime may occur in various contexts including if you intentionally start a fire. Fires are inherently dangerous, can easily burn out of control, can spread quickly and are often difficult to extinguish. Injury from a fire can be devastating, causing permanent disfiguration and death. While a reckless endangerment charge does not require anyone to suffer an injury, it does require others to be placed in danger of suffering a serious physical injury. If you have been charged with reckless endangerment based on setting a fire you should immediately contact an experienced New York Reckless Endangerment and Fire Lawyer who will carefully review the facts of your case and aggressively defend you from the beginning of your case until it is resolved.

Reckless Endangerment and Fire

If you set a house, car or some other property on fire and put others in danger of serious physical injury, the reckless endangerment charge that you are likely to face is reckless endangerment in the first degree. N.Y. Pen. Law § 120.25. Reckless endangerment in the first degree involves engaging in conduct that creates a grave risk of death to another person under circumstances which evince a depraved indifference to human life. It is a Class D felony. N.Y. Pen. Law § 120.25. New York courts have interpreted the phrase "depraved indifference to human life" to mean "an utter disregard for the value of human life— a willingness to act not because one intends harm, but because one simply doesn't care whether grievous harm results or not." New York courts have consistently held that causing a fire while another person is in the structure or vehicle shows a depraved indifference to human life, making a charge of reckless endangerment in the first degree appropriate.

For example, in the case of People v. Hodges, 888 N.Y.S.2d 224 (2009), defendant Brian Hodges set a building on fire and as a result was charged with reckless endangerment in the first degree. After his underage girlfriend broke up with him and refused to see him, Hodges set fire to a building that housed her family's store and apartment. The fire consumed the building as well as two vehicles parked near the building. The occupants of the vehicle were able to escape without being harmed. Similarly, in People v. Ceni, 986 N.Y.S.2d 866 (2014) defendant Astrit Ceni poured liquid under an apartment door and attempted to ignite it. There were several people inside the apartment at the time. Ceni pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment in the first degree.

Consequences of a Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree Conviction

If you are convicted of reckless endangerment your punishment may include jail, probation, a fine and restitution.


Reckless endangerment in the first degree is a Class D felony. The maximum possible sentence is 7 years in prison. N.Y. Pen. Law § 70.02. Because reckless endangerment in the first degree is also classified as a violent felony, the judge is required to impose a minimum sentence of 2 years in prison. Your sentence will be determinate, meaning that it will be a set period of years and not a range of years. The actual length of your prison sentence will depend on how you are classified based on your prior criminal record as follows:

  • Prior convictions: Prior convictions include felony convictions within the last 10 years.
  • Non-Violent Predicate: A non-violent felony conviction within the last 10 years.
  • Violent Predicate: A violent felony conviction within the last 10 years.
  • Persistent Felony Offender: At least 2 prior felony convictions.

Even if you have no prior felony convictions the minimum prison sentence you will receive is 2 years. The court will not have the option of sentencing you to no prison time. If your status is that of a non-violent predicate offender, then the court will sentence you to at least 3 years for an assault in the second degree conviction, while if you are a violent predicate offender, you will be sentenced to at least 5 years in prison. If you are a persistent felony offender, then the minimum sentence you will receive is 12-25 years in prison; the maximum sentence is life in prison. N.Y. Pen. Law § 70.08. Upon release you will be required to serve a term of post-release supervision.

Post-Release Supervision

If convicted of reckless endangerment in the first degree part of your sentence will also include a term of post-release supervision of 1.5-3 years. N.Y. Pen. Law § 70.45(e). There will be several rules that you must follow while you are on post-release supervision. Such rules vary from person to person based on what the Department of Corrections determines is needed to ensure a smooth, crime-free transition from prison back into the community. Such rules may include that:

  • You must not commit a crime
  • You must not associate with other people who you know have criminal records
  • You must not patronize disreputable places
  • You must not possess a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia
  • You must consent to warrantless searches
  • You must submit to home visits by your Parole Officer
  • You must regularly report to your Parole Officer
  • You cannot leave the State of New York without permission
  • You must now own, possess or purchase a gun
  • You must refrain from consuming alcohol
  • You must submit to drug testing
  • You must stick to a curfew
  • You must have job

If you violate any of the terms of your post-release supervision you will receive a revocation hearing. If the judge concludes that you violated the terms of your post-release supervision the judge may order you back to prison to complete your original sentence plus additional time for violating your post-release supervision.

Fines, Fees and Restitution

As part of your sentence the judge may order you to pay a fine and restitution. For reckless endangerment in the first degree the fine would be up to $5,000. Restitution is paid to the victim to cover out-of-pocket expenses that result from a crime. Generally, the maximum amount of restitution is $15,000, plus a 5% surcharge. N.Y. Pen. Law § 60.27. However, the law does give a judge the discretion to order more restitution if the circumstances warrant it. For example, in the case of People v. Hodges, the court ordered the defendant to pay restitution in the amount of $705,000 and a 5% surcharge of $35,250.

You will be required to pay fees. One $300 fee is referred to as a "mandatory surcharge." You may also be required to pay a victim assistance fee of $25. N.Y. Pen. Law § 60.35. If you are placed on probation, you will have pay probation supervision fees of $30 per month.

You will not have completed your sentence until you have paid the fine and restitution that the court has ordered as part of your sentence. Furthermore, if you fail to pay a fine, fee or restitution you may be charged with a misdemeanor and sent to prison. The state can also seek to satisfy your debt by taking money from your prison account or by garnishing your wages. The law does allow you to petition the court for a reduction in the amount of fines and restitution you are required to pay, or to issue a modified payment schedule.

Additional Criminal Charges

If you are convicted of reckless endangerment in the first degree based on a fire there is a good chance that you will face additional criminal charges. For example, the defendant in People v. Ceni was charged with arson in the second degree and criminal mischief in the second degree in addition to being charged with five courts of reckless endangerment in the first degree. If you are convicted of any criminal charge in addition to reckless endangerment if the first degree your sentence will reflect that and will be more severe.

Plea Agreement

As part of the criminal process the prosecutor may offer you the option of pleading guilty in exchange for a reduced charge or a lighter sentence than you would receive if you are found guilty after a trial. This commonly referred to as a plea bargain. For example, the prosecutor may agree to reduce the charge to reckless endangerment in the second degree, a misdemeanor. However, if you do plead guilty to a lesser charge that will still mean that you will have been convicted of a crime and you will be sentenced based on that crime. The advantage of agreeing to a plea bargain is that you will not risk being found guilty of the original, more serious charge after a trial and then face a stiffer sentence.

Long-Term Consequences

If you are convicted of reckless endangerment in the first degree in addition to the sentence that the judge hands you, you will end up with a criminal record that contains a violent felony. Such a record will negatively impact several aspects of your life such as getting a job. Most employers will conduct a background check as part of the application process and some will be hesitant to hire you if you have a criminal record. In addition, you will be barred from working in certain professions that require licensing such as being a teacher, a lawyer, security guard, and driving a cab. A criminal record may also impact your educational opportunities. Nowadays some colleges perform criminal background checks on prospective students and refuse admission to those who have criminal records. You will also not be able to receive certain government benefits such as welfare or federally funded housing. If you are not a citizen of the United States federal law may require that you be deported.

The consequences of a reckless endangerment conviction related to starting a fire are serious and long-lasting. If you are convicted of reckless endangerment in the first degree there is good chance that you will end up in prison. You may be ordered to pay significant fines and restitution. You will have a criminal record that may limit your professional opportunities. Because of the consequences of being convicted of reckless endangerment it is important to have experienced representation. The staff at Stephen Bilkis & Associates, PLLC has years of experience successfully defending clients in New York criminal courts who have been charged with reckless endangerment in the first degree as well as other crimes such as grand larceny, robbery, assault, harassment, menacing, stalking, and child endangerment. Contact us at 800.696.9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We serve those accused of robbery in the following locations:

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