Exclusively Practicing Criminal Defense for
Two Decades
David Olshansky

Reckless Conduct

Reckless conduct that endangers the safety of another person is a punishable crime in the state of Illinois.

A person may be charged even if they had no intention of causing harm to a particular person. As long as they are aware that their actions could endanger the life or safety of another person, they can be charged with reckless conduct.

State Legislation

Reckless conduct is covered under 720 ILCS 5/12-5. The law states that a person commits reckless conduct when he or she recklessly performs any act or acts that;

  • Cause bodily harm to or endanger the safety of another person.
  • Cause great bodily harm, permanent disability or disfigurement to another person.

The legislation also covers the offense of criminal housing management. A person with the management control of a residential real estate commits the offense when he or she allows the physical condition, or facilities of the residential area, to deteriorate to a state where they endanger the health or safety of any person.

The law also covers the criminal transmission of HIV. A person commits the offense when he or she, knowing that they are infected with HIV, do one of the following.

  • Engage in intimate contact with another.
  • Transfer, donate or provide their blood, tissue, semen, organs or potentially infected fluids to another.
  • Dispense, deliver, sell or transfer any non sterile drug paraphernalia.

Reckless conduct that endangers or causes bodily harm is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison.

When the reckless conduct causes great bodily harm or permanent disability, it can be charged as a Class 4 felony, punishable by 1 – 3 years in prison.


The legislation seems simple enough but it is open to many interpretations and can be applied in a large number of cases.

For example, the act of driving a vehicle over the speed limit, or driving it over the public sidewalk would constitute reckless conduct as it puts other drivers and pedestrians in harm’s way.

A sporting equipment manufacturer can also be charged with reckless conduct if they are knowingly producing faulty equipment for high risk sports such as fly boarding or bungee jumping.

A pharmaceutical company may similarly be charged with reckless conduct if they are found to be producing counterfeit medicine or drugs that have not been approved by the FDA.

A person may be charged with reckless conduct not just for their actions but for their speech as well. Inciting violence against property or other individuals that ends up causing bodily harm to a person is considered reckless conduct.

Shouting ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater when there is no fire can also be charged as reckless conduct because it puts the entire crowd at risk. People may attempt to leave the place in a rush causing a stampede and some of them may get injured.

The law can also apply to service providers that expose their customers, employees or anyone in general to hazardous or unsafe conditions.

Take a boating company for instance. If their boats are damaged with the possibility of sinking, during a river crossing, the operators can be charged with reckless conduct for exposing their customers to unsafe environment.

Examples and Court Cases

A man from Oregon was recently charged with several felonies including reckless conduct and reckless homicide for the death of a woman two years ago.

Marc Mongan, 47, was operating a johnboat, allegedly DUI and going faster than “a reasonable speed”, according to the prosecution. His boat struck the back of the boat that Megan Wells was riding. It flew off the pontoon boat and struck the woman, throwing her overboard.

Mongan has pleaded guilty to one charge of reckless conduct causing great bodily harm. The prosecution appears to have agreed to the plea bargain. If convicted, which seems likely under the plea bargain, Mongan could be sentenced for 1 – 3 years in prison.

In a different case a man from Decatur was charged with reckless conduct and reckless discharge of a firearm after shooting a rifle through his neighbor’s ceiling.

Dillon Trimby, 26, was arrested after a three-hour standoff with law enforcement officers. During the standoff at his apartment, Trimby refused several requests by the police to come outside. His girlfriend emerged with a child after an hour of the standoff. She later filled out an affidavit that Trimby was simply messing with the gun and it went off and he did not intend to shoot at anyone.

Trimby claims he smoked weed earlier that day and did not remember firing with the rifle. If he is found guilty of reckless conduct, Trimby could be sentenced for up to one year in prison.

There was a similar incident that took place a few months prior in Wheaton, Illinois. Patrick O’Shea 67, was alone in his apartment when he accidentally fired a short-barreled Smith & Wesson. The bullet went through the wall into the next apartment.

O’Shea checked the apartment next-door to see if anyone was hurt, but it appeared to be empty at the time. No one was hit and there was no property damage, so he forgot about it.

A week later, the neighbor contacted the police to report the spent bullet stuck on his living room floor. In an investigation, the police linked the bullet as having been fired from O’Shea’s apartment. The man was arrested after an investigation and charged with reckless conduct.

The prosecution built a case that O’Shea’s reckless conduct endangered the safety of his neighbors. The defense for its part pointed out that there was no one present in the apartment at the time of the accident. They argued that the prosecution had failed to meet its legal burden of proof obligation and the charges against O’Shea were legally deficient.

The Kane County judge agreed with the line of reasoning presented by the defense team and the case was dismissed.

Possible Legal Defenses

The charge of reckless conduct is dependent on two things. First, the defendant must have taken the action recklessly. Second the action must have led to causing bodily harm or endangered the safety of another person.

For example, if a motor vehicle accident occurs due to irresponsible behavior of a person who is injured in the accident, the driver cannot be held responsible if he or she was driving in a responsible manner, within the legal speed limit. An experienced defense team can present a strong case to show that their client acted responsibly to get the case dismissed.

Similarly, if the safety of a person has not been threatened by the defendant’s reckless conduct, the prosecution cannot get a conviction. This is an area where a good defense team can make a significant difference.