There are two main types of negligence: civil negligence and criminal negligence.

Civil negligence is also sometimes referred to as “ordinary” negligence. It refers to situations where someone gets injured because of another person’s carelessness. A person is considered civilly negligent when their conduct falls short of what a “reasonable and prudent person” would have done in the same or similar situation.

Criminal negligence occurs when an individual’s conduct is an extreme departure from how a reasonable person would have acted in the same or similar situation. Criminal negligence also requires a higher degree of responsibility compared to civil negligence. For a prosecutor to convict someone of criminal negligence, it is necessary to prove all specific elements.

What Are Some Examples of Criminal Negligence?

The following are examples of a person acting with criminal negligence:

  • Pointing a loaded gun at someone’s head
  • Driving a car at top speeds while texting
  • Firing a weapon into the air during a celebration at a party
  • Leaving a child in an unattended car in the middle of summer

A textbook example of criminal negligence is the crime of involuntary manslaughter. A person commits involuntary manslaughter when they:

  • Kill someone unintentionally
  • Do so via criminal negligence or in the commission of a crime that is not a felony

During a fight with her husband, say a woman retrieves a loaded gun and waves it at her husband to threaten him. The gun accidentally fires and kills the husband. In this case, the woman is guilty of involuntary manslaughter. She killed her husband unintentionally, but she acted with criminal negligence. She engaged in a reckless act by waving her gun threateningly, which created a risk of death to her husband.

How is Criminal Negligence Proved?

In a criminal negligence case, the prosecutor has to prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the highest standard of proof. It means that the evidence is so strong that there is no logical explanation other than that the defendant was criminally negligent.

A prosecutor could convict someone of criminal negligence only if they had a legal duty to act. There can’t be criminal negligence if there is no legal duty. Mistakes and accidents are not considered criminal negligence because a criminally negligent act requires more than just a mistake in judgment, inattention, or simple carelessness.

Criminal negligence only refers to conduct that is so outrageous and reckless that it is a major departure from the way an ordinary and careful person would have acted in similar circumstances.

What are Some of the Defenses to Criminal Negligence?

The specific defenses available in criminal negligence cases depend on the exact facts of the situation. Some primary defenses available to defendants include:

  • No Legal Duty: To be convicted of criminal negligence, the defendant must have owed a duty to the victim to do something or refrain from doing something. If the defendant can prove that they owed no legal duty, they will not be criminally negligent.
  • Mistake or Accident: Criminal negligence requires more than a mistake in judgment or carelessness. It is always a defense in criminal negligence cases for a defendant to show that their conduct was not outrageous or reckless but resulted from a mistake in judgment or accident. If the defendant can prove that their conduct was not outrageous or reckless but that their actions resulted from a mistake in judgment or an accident, they may not be considered criminally negligent.
  • No Knowledge: A finding of criminal negligence requires that the defendant knew that their acts created a risk to the victim, or the accused should have known of this risk. A defense strategy is to show that the defendant did not have this knowledge.
  • Reasonable Care: If the defendant can prove that they exercised reasonable care to avoid harming the victim, they may not be considered criminally negligent. This reasonableness does not constitute any sort of reckless care. An assertion of reasonable care always acts as a defense.
  • Involuntary Intoxication: If the defendant can prove that they committed the crime while under the influence of alcohol or drugs either unknowingly or because of force, they can avoid criminal negligence. However, voluntary intoxication is not a complete defense, and the defendant can still be found guilty of some other charge.

How Does Criminal Negligence Differ from Civil Negligence?

Criminal negligence is different from civil negligence. Civil negligence is something that a plaintiff must prove in a civil case involving a personal injury.

Civil negligence refers to conduct that falls below an appropriate level of care. If civil negligence is proven, an injured plaintiff can recover damages for any injuries the defendant caused.

Civil negligence involves conduct below a reasonable person’s conduct in a similar situation. Unlike criminal negligence, civil negligence is:

  • Just short of reasonableness
  • Not a drastic departure from how a reasonable person would act

Criminal and civil negligence also differ in terms of the level of proof involved and the punishment for each.

Civil negligence is proven in a civil case involving personal injury. Criminal negligence is proven during criminal cases.

In a civil context, a plaintiff must prove negligence by a preponderance of the evidence. This means showing that it was more likely than not that the defendant acted negligently.

A prosecutor must prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal case. This is a higher standard than used in civil trials. Beyond a reasonable doubt means that:

  • The defendant acted with criminal negligence
  • There can be no other explanation

If a defendant is found to have acted negligently in a civil case, they have to pay damages. Damages are paid to the plaintiff to compensate for any injuries.

In criminal negligence cases, parties guilty of negligence can go to county jail or be punished with fines, probation, or community service.

How is Criminal Negligence Related to Intent?

Criminal negligence acts as a substitute for intent. To be guilty of most crimes, a defendant must act with a mens rea or criminal intent. Normally, a prosecutor must prove that a defendant acted intentionally, deliberately, or with some other state of mind.

For example, in murder cases, a prosecutor must prove that the accused killed someone and did so with the mental state of malice.

In a burglary case, the state must show that a defendant entered a structure or building with the intent to commit a theft or felony inside.

Criminal negligence acts as a substitute for intent in certain situations. Criminal negligence acts as a substitute because it imposes guilt on a person and does so when the person commits an act with a serious risk of injury.

Negligence is an implied intent. The intent is implied or substituted because of a willingness to inflict injury.

Should I Contact a Lawyer for Help with Criminal Negligence Issues?

Criminal negligence laws can be difficult to understand, and there may be some differences in how each state defines criminal negligence. In this context, it will be beneficial to contact and consult with a local criminal defense attorney before proceeding. Use LegalMatch to find the best lawyer for your needs today. Our services are entirely confidential, and there is no fee to schedule a consultation.