If you've ever read a statute in Arizona's criminal code or read an article about a crime that has been committed, you might have come across the term "reckless" in the description of the offense. For example, ARS 13-1604, aggravated criminal damage, states that a person commits a crime when they recklessly cause damage to a building, structure, or other property. (The law is also violated when such conduct is done intentionally.) But what does it mean to do something recklessly? We'll discuss that in this blog.
Culpable States of Mind
When someone commits a crime, they may be in a certain state of mind while doing so. In legal terms, this is the mens rea, or the guilty mind. What this refers to is the alleged offender's culpable mental state, or rather, how purposeful their actions were.
Arizona law enumerates 5 culpable mental states, which are defined as follows:
- Criminal negligence: This is when someone doesn't realize the risks that will result from their actions. A person is criminally negligent when their lack of awareness of the consequences deviates from the way a reasonable person would have perceived the situation under the same circumstances.
- Recklessly: A person acts recklessly when they recognize their actions will cause a certain result but engages in them regardless of the substantial risks. They are considered reckless when their actions deviate from the reasonable standard of conduct in the same or a similar situation. In Arizona, a person is also considered reckless when they are intoxicated and are not aware of the risks associated with their actions.
- Knowingly: This is when someone is aware of the conduct they're engaging in.
- Intentionally: A person acts with intent when they purposely engage in specific conduct or they want to cause a specific result.
To get a better understanding of a reckless act, let's return to the aggravated criminal damage law mentioned at the beginning of this blog.
Suppose Danny is driving his car down the highway, and he thinks it would be fun to attempt a donut – where the car spins in a circle on the pavement. While he's doing this trick, he loses control of his vehicle and crashes into a nearby building, damaging it.
But now, let's say instead of trying to do a donut, Danny sees a store whose owner supports a cause he doesn't believe in. He yanks his wheel to the side and hits the building to "teach the owner a lesson."
In both of the examples above, Danny's actions result in the same outcome – a building is damaged. But the state of mind he was in (his culpable mental state) was different. In the first instance, he acted recklessly because a reasonable person would have known doing a donut could lead to a collision. In the second instance, he acted intentionally because he wanted to destroy the shop.