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Criminal Negligence Defenses

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What is Criminal Negligence?

There are two main types of negligence, namely civil negligence and criminal negligence. Civil negligence is also sometimes referred to as “ordinary” negligence and 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” (essentially an average person)  would have done in the same or similar situation.

However, criminal negligence occurs when an individual’s conduct is an extreme departure from the way 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 and in order for a prosecutor to convict someone of criminal negligence, it is necessary to prove all of the specific elements.

How is Criminal Negligence Proved?

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

A prosecutor can convict someone of criminal negligence only if they had a legal duty to act. So 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 a mere 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 which are available depend on the exact facts of your situation. Some major defenses which are available to defendants include:

  • No Legal Duty: In order 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 held criminally negligent.
  • Mistake or Accident: If the defendant can prove that their conduct was not so outrageous or reckless but that their actions were the result of a mistake in judgment or an accident, they may not be considered criminally negligent.
  • Reasonable Care: If the defendant can prove that they exercised reasonable care to avoid harming the victim, they may not be considered criminally negligent.
  • Involuntary Intoxication: If the defendant can prove that they committed the crime while they were 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.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

Criminal negligence laws can be difficult to understand and there may be some differences in terms of 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.

Photo of page author Arvind Ravikumar

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 01-23-2018 03:06 PM PST

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