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Reckless Conduct Endangering Life

Reckless conduct endangering life is a very serious offence that is laid in situations where a person recklessly engages in conduct that places, or may place, another person in danger of death without lawful excuse. This is a general endangerment offence which can cover a wide variety of offending. Reckless conduct endangering life may happen when defendants are driving at such a high speed that they are endangering the passengers in their car or other people around them.

This offence is governed by section 22 of the Crimes Act 1958 (‘the Act’).

Jurisdictional limits

Reckless conduct endangering life is an indictable offence that carries a significant penalty. The offence carries a 10 year term of imprisonment as the highest possible sentence. More often than not there are related accompanying charges on a brief of reckless conduct endangering life depending on the circumstances of the incident the police allege. The seriousness of the offending will determine which jurisdiction will hear the case. It is however the type of offence that is generally heard in the Magistrates’ Court.

The Elements: Reckless Conduct Endangering Life

  • The accused engaged in conduct;
  • The accused’s conduct was voluntary;
  • The accused’s conduct endangered another person’s life;
  • The accused acted recklessly; and
  • The accused acted without lawful authority or excuse.

The test here is whether a reasonable person in the same shoes of the accused would have realised that his or her conduct placed, or may have placed, another person in danger of death.1 The Prosecution need not prove that a person was actually in danger but, that the accused’s conduct had the potential to place a person in danger of death.2

When we speak of placing a person in danger of death, it must be a real risk – this means more than a remote or mere possibility, even if the risk may not materialise.

In terms of recklessness, the threshold to establish recklessness is quite high in the sense that the accused will not have acted recklessly simply because he or she ought to have known, or thought it was possible, that their conduct would create an appreciable risk of death.3

The element requires the accused to have foreseen that his or her conduct would probably create an appreciable risk of death.4 The accused’s state of mind must be assessed at the time the conduct was committed. It is not sufficient for the prosecution to prove that the accused later realised that his or her conduct was dangerous.5

Finally, the prosecution must disprove any defences that are raised on the evidence.

In a trial, the questions a judge will ask the jury to consider are:

  1. Did the accused commit the conduct alleged in the presentment?
    If yes, then go to 2.
    If no, then the accused is not guilty of reckless conduct endangering life.
  2. Did the accused voluntarily commit that conduct?
    If yes, then go to 3.1.
    If no, then the accused is not guilty of reckless conduct endangering life.
  3. Did the accused’s conduct endanger another person’s life?
    • 3.1 Would a reasonable person who committed the same conduct as the accused, in the same circumstances, have realised that s/he was placing another person at an appreciable risk of death?
      (Consider – There must be more than a remote risk of death)
      If yes, then go to 4.1.
      If no, then go to 3.2.
    • 3.2 Would a reasonable person who committed the same conduct as the accused, in the same circumstances, have realised that s/he may have been placing another person at an appreciable risk of death?
      If yes, then go to 4.1.
      If no, then the accused is not guilty of reckless conduct endangering life.
  4. Did the accused act recklessly?
    • 4.1 At the time the accused committed the relevant conduct, did s/he foresee that an appreciable risk of death was a probable consequence of his/her actions?
      (Consider – The risk must have been probable rather than possible)
      (Consider – The accused does not need to have foreseen that his conduct would probably cause death. S/he must have foreseen that his/her actions would probably create an appreciable risk of death)
      If yes, then go to 5.
      If no, then the accused is not guilty of reckless conduct endangering life.
  5. Did the accused act without lawful authority or excuse?
    If yes, then the accused is guilty of reckless conduct endangering life (as long as you have also answered Yes to questions 1, 2, 3.1 or 3.2, and 4.1).
    If no, then the accused is not guilty of reckless conduct endangering life.

Possible Defences to Reckless Conduct Endangering Life

Often the defence to this charge can be that there is a factual dispute as to what level of danger were the people placed in by the conduct.

Aside from general defences which may apply such as mistaken identity, the offence of reckless conduct endangering life can raise complex legal issues in relation to the intention of the accused. Lack of intent can be a defence to this charge if the Prosecution does not provide adequate evidence that the accused had the requisite intention at the time to constitute their state of mind as “reckless” – possible versus probable divide.

Other defences such as factual dispute, duress, wrongful identification, self-defence, mental impairment, honest and reasonable mistake or belief, and necessity may also apply.

Sentencing Outcomes in the Magistrates’ Court

The Sentencing Advisory Council has released sentencing statistics for the sentencing of reckless conduct endangering life matters in the Magistrates’ Court between July 2011 to June 2014.

Over the 3-year period:

  • 348 cases were before the Court
  • 39.7% of people sentenced received a period of imprisonment
  • 14.9% received a wholly suspended period of imprisonment
  • 5.8% received a partially suspended sentence
  • 21.6% received a Community Corrections Order
  • 8.3% received a financial penalty

The most common length of imprisonment imposed was between 12 and 18 months with 29.9% of persons imprisoned sentenced within that range.

Please note that suspended sentences were abolished in Victoria for all offences committed on or after 1 September 2014.

Sentencing outcomes in the higher courts

The Sentencing Advisory Council has released sentencing statistics for the sentencing of reckless conduct endangering life matters in the County and Supreme Court’s between July 2010 to June 2015.

Over the five year period:

  • 154 cases were before the Court
  • 77.9% of people sentenced received a period of imprisonment
  • 2.6% received a wholly suspended period of imprisonment
  • 3.2% received a partially suspended sentence
  • 6.5% received a Community Corrections Order

The most common length of imprisonment imposed was between 2 and 3 years with 28.3% sentenced within that range.

Please note that suspended sentences were abolished in the higher courts earlier than that of the Magistrates’ Court, and therefore for all offences committed on or after 1 September 2013 will not have this available as a sentencing option.

Check out some of the criminal cases we’ve defended in court involving the charge of Reckless Conduct Endangering Life:



[1]Crimes Act 1958 s22; R v Nuri [1990] VR 641; R v Holzer [1968] VR 481.
[2]R v Abdul-Rasool [2008] VSCA 13.
[3]R v Nuri [1990] VR 641.
[4]R v Toms [2006] VSCA 101; R v Lam [2006] VSCA 162.
[5]R v Wilson [2005] VSCA 78.