Criminal Defense Personal Injury

What Is Criminal Negligence?

When is a crime not really a crime? It all comes down to intent.

There are the deliberate crimes, those undertaken with malice aforethought and carried out with nefarious ends in mind. There are also the apparent crimes that result from unintentional acts, but these are not crimes at all. What, however, of the third variety, crimes that result from actions that were neither accidental nor intentional in nature but instead qualify as reckless or negligent? Do these count as crimes, or are they something else?

Civil Versus Criminal Negligence

Not all negligent or reckless acts will inescapably lead to the harm of another person. When one does, however, that negligence could be construed as either civil or criminal. The law defines civil negligence as the failure of an individual to abide by reasonable standards of conduct that any thinking individual should be expected to follow in a comparable situation. The resulting harm can leave the negligent person in danger of being sued in civil court by the one who has suffered the harm.

The reckless person will not, however, have committed a criminally negligent act unless he or she:

  • Behaved in a manner that deviated grossly from that of a reasonable individual.
  • Showed an indifference to the potential consequences of his actions.
  • Evinced a distinct lack of regard for human life or safety.
  • Engaged in behavior that was gross, aggravated or culpable in character.

In the final analysis, the criminally negligent person will be one whose conduct fails to follow the standards to which any reasonable person would adhere in an analogous situation. Examples of criminally negligent behavior might include:

  • Driving in a dangerous and irresponsible manner.
  • Shooting at squirrels in a public park.
  • Exposing a minor to a dangerous and potentially life-threatening situation.
  • Storing a poisonous substance in a soda bottle.
  • Leaving a child in a locked parked car.

Criminally negligent conduct will generally involve behaving with a knowing disregard of the risks involved or complete unawareness of them.

Charges of Criminal Negligence

The concept of negligence will arise more often in civil than in criminal cases. It will, however, rise to the criminal level if the perpetrator has behaved in a reckless or negligent manner with the realization that his actions could result in serious harm or death to another person. Therefore, legal instances of negligent crimes include the concepts of:

  • Criminally negligent homicide. These charges will arise when the negligence of one person results in the death of another. It is considered a lesser offense than either first or second-degree murder, and its sentences for the guilty party compare more closely to those for manslaughter. In some states, a person who kills another while driving under the influence or texting behind the wheel can face charges of criminally negligent homicide. To prove the charge, the prosecution must prove only that the defendant should have known of the possible outcome.
  • Criminally negligent manslaughter. Charges of this nature can arise when someone’s death results from the failure of another to fulfill an expected duty. A lifeguard who fails to notice a drowning man or a doctor who accidentally disconnects a patient’s life support could be held on this type of charge. To be found guilty, the defendant must have failed to fulfill a duty to save a life. A medical professional will have this duty, but an ordinary citizen may not.
  • Negligent endangerment of a minor. Any activity that exposes a child to potential bodily injury, impairment or death either deliberately or through a failure to implement required safety precautions will fill the bill. Any mentally and physically capable parent or caretaker who neglects a child’s needs could be subject to prosecution for negligent endangerment.

Penalties for Criminal Negligence

The repercussions for a finding of criminal negligence will vary in accordance with the severity of the resulting damage. However, since most of these cases involve death or serious harm to another person, sentencing will normally involve a prison sentence that will range between 10 and 14 years.

On the other hand, criminal negligence may not always amount to a prosecutable offense. If the defendant can prove that the accident or death occurred despite his best and honest attempts to take all possible precautions, the courts may rule him not liable. The same may be true if the defendant in question lacks the capacity to function to the same standard as one would expect of a person with more normal abilities. This is particularly applicable in cases where the defendant’s mental capacity could be in serious question.

Charges of criminal negligence are never a laughing matter. If you should find yourself facing them, legal assistance is imperative. For a free consultation and a chance for expert representation, contact the defense attorneys at Weiner Law Group today.