Criminal Negligence Laws

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What is Criminal Negligence?

Under some criminal law statutes, criminal negligence is defined as any type of conduct that “grossly deviates” from normal, reasonable standards of an ordinary person.  It generally involves an indifference or disregard for human life or for the safety of people.  Sometimes the definition for criminal negligence also requires a failure to recognize unjustifiable risks associated with the conduct.

Examples of criminally negligent behavior may include knowingly allowing a child to be in very dangerous conditions, or driving in an extremely irresponsible way.  Criminal negligence is less serious than intentional or reckless conduct.  Generally, reckless conduct involves a knowing disregard of risks, while negligence involves an unawareness of the risks.

Is Criminal Negligence Different From Civil Negligence?

Yes- the standard for proving criminal negligence is somewhat higher than that for civil negligence.  Civil negligence is usually defined as a failure to fulfill one’s duty, or a failure to follow the normal standards of conduct for a reasonable person. 

In comparison a finding of criminal negligence requires that the person exercised a “gross” or “aggravated” deviation from acceptable societal norms.  In other words, the conduct must have some element of an unjustifiable disregard of standards in order for it to be considered criminal. 

Part of this difference also lies in the way that criminal cases are tried in comparison to civil negligence claims.  In a criminal case, it is the state that is filing the claim against the defendant.  Criminal cases involve punishments such as fines or jail time for the purpose of penalizing the defendant.  Basically, the conduct must be sufficiently disruptive or damaging in order to justify a punishment by the state.

In contrast, a civil negligence claim is filed by one private citizen against the other.  Rather than punishment for the defendant, the focus in a civil claim is on reimbursing the victim for their losses. 

What are the Legal Penalties for Criminal Negligence?

One thing about criminal negligence is that it is often used to characterize the seriousness of other types of crimes.  The mind state of criminal negligence is usually attached to a different type of charge.

For example, typical criminal cases involving negligence might list charges such as:

Thus, the legal penalties will usually be based on the base crime to which the negligence is being attached.  For instance, with “criminally negligent homicide”, the defendant may face penalties that are associated with most homicide claims, such as prison time for over one year.  However, for a less serious base crime such an automobile violation, the punishments may only involve a criminal fine, or time in jail for less than one year.

Defenses to criminal negligence typically involve some sort of negation of the defendant’s mind state, such as involuntary intoxication.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Criminal Negligence Laws?

Criminal negligence laws can sometimes be difficult to understand.  However, the serious of some criminal sentences can depend on whether the conduct was intentional, reckless, or negligent.  You may wish to hire a criminal lawyer for help understanding these differences.  A qualified attorney in your area can provide you with legal counsel and representation during a criminal trial.

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Last Modified: 12-18-2012 01:53 PM PST

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