In Maine, the statute that prohibits reckless conduct is very vague and a favorite for police who want to make an arrest in situations where it's unclear that a crime has been committed. If you had a deadly weapon during the altercation, the severity of the offense turns from a misdemeanor into a felony.
The criminal defense lawyers at WTB Law strive to legally represent people in Portland and southern Maine who have been accused of reckless conduct with a deadly or dangerous weapon. There are defenses that can be raised to invoke your rights and protect your future against the costs of a conviction for such a serious offense.
Reckless Conduct in Maine
In Maine, the crime of reckless conduct is described in 17-A Maine Statute § 211. Unfortunately, this statute is vague. It prohibits anything that “recklessly creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to another person.”
Typically, reckless conduct is a Class D crime – the most severe type of misdemeanor in the state. However, the crime classification increases if there was a dangerous weapon involved.
Reckless Conduct with a Deadly Weapon in Maine
Another one of Maine's laws, 17-A Maine Statute § 1252(4), is a sentencing provision that deals with offenses that involved a dangerous or deadly weapon. This statute increases the classification of a crime by one level if the offense “was committed with the use of a dangerous weapon.”
So, a criminal charge of reckless conduct would change from a Class D criminal charge into a Class C charge. This increase is one of the most important in all of Maine criminal law because it turns a potential conviction from a misdemeanor into a felony. This does not just mean that you could spend more than a year in jail – it also means that the blemish on your criminal history would be far more severe and debilitating.
What is a “Dangerous Weapon”?
Because so much changes in reckless conduct allegations if you used a “dangerous weapon” at the time of the alleged offense, the definition of what constitutes a dangerous weapon becomes essential.
17-A Maine Statute § 2(9) provides that definition. Under this statute, the “use of a dangerous weapon” includes using or threatening to use a firearm or almost anything else that “is capable of producing death or serious bodily injury.”
Importantly, this includes anything that gets presented as a dangerous weapon, even if it isn't: Wielding a toy gun and claiming that it's a real one while engaging in reckless conduct could elevate the offense into reckless conduct with a deadly weapon.
Examples of Reckless Conduct with a Deadly Weapon
The offense of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon has been on the law books for several decades. Over the course of that time, Maine's court system has dealt with numerous instances of the offense and has applied the words on the page to real-life situations.
Some of the most important decisions have come from the Maine Supreme Court as they bind all other Maine judges into similar rulings:
- It doesn't matter if there was no intent to fire a weapon; merely pointing it at someone amounts to reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon – State v. Napier.
- A car can be used as a dangerous weapon – State v. York, State v. Seymour, and State v. Jones.
Penalties for a Conviction of Reckless Conduct with a Dangerous Weapon
Whenever a reckless conduct charge includes a dangerous weapon, the crime gets enhanced and the penalties increase. Rather than being a Class D crime, which is punishable with up to 364 days in jail and $2,000 in fines, it becomes a Class C crime, which carries up to five years in jail and up to $5,000 in fines.
Additionally, two prior offenses for violent crimes can further elevate an allegation of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon into a Class B crime. This can carry up to 10 years in jail and up to $20,000 in fines.
If the alleged offense involved “family or household members,” then it would also be charged as a crime of domestic violence, which can change how prior offenses are counted and lead to other consequences of a conviction, like mandatory anger management classes and a high chance of being subject to a restraining order.
Even if you have no prior offenses and the allegation does not involve domestic violence, the collateral consequences of having a felony-level conviction on your criminal background are severe. You could lose your right to own or use a firearm and even your right to vote.
Defenses to a Charge of Reckless Conduct with a Dangerous Weapon
There are, however, numerous ways to defend against an allegation that you committed reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon. Chief among them are:
- A lack of intent. Prosecutors have the burden of proving that you acted at least recklessly. If you can keep them from showing this by arguing that you were only being negligent or the event was all an accident, it can be an effective defense.
- Police misconduct. You have rights under the Fourth Amendment. If the police conduct an unreasonable search or seizure during their investigation, any evidence they uncover during that unlawful act can be excluded from trial.
- Utilizing the burden of proof. Prosecutors have the burden of proving that you are guilty and have to show it beyond a reasonable doubt. Challenging the evidence they present, poking holes in police testimony, and highlighting the weaknesses of the prosecutor's case can raise those reasonable doubts and protect your future.
WTB Law: Criminal Defense in Portland and Southern Maine
The criminal defense lawyers at WTB Law strive to defend people against allegations of reckless conduct with a deadly weapon in Portland, Saco, Biddeford, and the surrounding region. Contact us online or call our law office at (207) 571-8146 if you have been accused of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon and want to raise your rights in court.