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What is Reckless Conduct and How is it Punished?

reckless behavior georgia

Reckless conduct is a crime in Georgia. It can be charged if one person causes physical harm to another person or threatens the physical safety of another person, even without causing damage. This can be done in a number of ways, including putting another person at risk of exposure to a disease.

Under Georgia statute, reckless conduct is usually charged as a misdemeanor. To prove a case, a prosecutor must show the defendant did all of the following:

  1. Engaged in conduct that caused or endangered the physical safety of another person
  2. Realized or should have realized that the conduct posed a substantial and unjustifiable risk to the other’s safety
  3. Disregarded the risk in a way that grossly deviated from what a reasonable person would do in the same circumstances

Multiple factors are relevant to whether a defendant realized or should have realized the risk, including his or her mental capacities, age and education as well as the nature of the crime itself and the circumstances in which it occurred.

These are examples of misdemeanor reckless conduct:

  • Storing dangerous items (like illegal drugs, weapons, explosives) where children can find them
  • Using fireworks in an illegal way
  • Operating a vehicle while intoxicated
  • Driving at extremely high speed
  • Playing with a firearm
  • Physically fighting with or using violence against another person
  • Having unprotected sex knowing that you have a sexually transmissible disease

Not all charges of reckless conduct are misdemeanors. For a person who knows that they have HIV or hepatitis, it is a felony to engage in behavior that carries a great risk of transmitting the disease — for example, having unprotected sex, sharing hypodermic needles or donating blood — if the other people involved are unaware of the infected person’s status. It is also a felony to intentionally expose an on-duty peace or correctional officer to HIV or hepatitis.

In the age of COVID-19, some conduct that was never criminal could now constitute reckless conduct — such as a person who knows they are COVID-positive attending a public event, especially unmasked. An even stronger case for reckless conduct could be made if a COVID-positive person purposefully coughs or spits on another person.

A misdemeanor reckless conduct conviction can bring with it a jail term of up to 12 months and a fine of up to $1,000. A felony conviction can carry a prison sentence of as long as 20 years. In either case, a conviction can stay on the defendant’s criminal record even after fines have been paid and jail time is served. If you are facing such charges, an experienced Georgia criminal defense attorney can analyze the facts of your case and devise an effective defensive strategy.

The law firm of James D. Michael, P.C., located in Decatur, Georgia, defends people facing criminal charges in and around DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties. Call us at 404-857-4059 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.