Criminal negligence occurs when someone acts in a way that is an extreme departure from the way that a “reasonable” person would have acted in the same or similar situation. Criminal negligence generally involves an indifference or disregard for human life or for the safety of other individuals.

How is Criminal Negligence Different from Civil Negligence?

Criminal negligence is different from civil negligence in that it involves more extreme behavior or actions. It requires more than a mere mistake in judgment, inattention or ordinary carelessness and it refers to conduct that is so outrageous and reckless that it is clear departure from the way an ordinary careful individual would have acted.

Civil negligence occurs when a person’s conduct falls short of how a “reasonable” individual would act in the same or similar situation but the individual’s conduct may not be considered a drastic departure from the way a reasonable person would have acted.

The Level of Proof

Also, civil negligence cases involve a lesser “burden of proof” compared to criminal negligence cases. The plaintiff in a civil negligence case only has to prove by a preponderance of evidence that the defendant was negligent.

The phrase “preponderance of evidence” means that it was more likely than not that the defendant acted negligently. But in a criminal negligence case, the prosecutor is required 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 other logical explanation besides the fact that the defendant acted with criminal negligence.

Who Files the Case?

Also, criminal cases are tried differently compared to civil cases. It is the state that is filing the claim against the defendant in a criminal case.  This is because the conduct is considered to be sufficiently disruptive or damaging in order to justify a punishment by the state.

But a civil negligence claim is filed by one private citizen against the other and the focus in a civil claim is to reimburse the victim for their losses rather than to punish the defendant. Also, the penalties are different for civil cases and criminal cases.

The Punishment for Criminal vs. Civil

A person who is liable in a civil case only has to pay money damages while a person convicted in a criminal case can go to jail. Criminal negligence can also be punished by fines, probation supervision and mandatory community service.

Once the sentence imposed by a court has been served, the individual who was convicted of criminal negligence would probably have a criminal record which could make it difficult to find a job.

What is an Example of Criminal Negligence?

Criminal negligence typically refers to conduct that leads to a risk of major bodily injury or death to another individual. One major example is someone driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and causing someone’s death because of their operation of a motor vehicle. Most statutes would define this conduct as criminally negligent homicide.

What is an Example of a Law on Criminal Negligence?

In the state of California for example, in order to convict someone of criminal negligence, it is necessary for the prosecutor to prove three elements:

  1. That the defendant acted so recklessly that they created a high risk of death or major bodily injury.
  2. That the defendant’s actions showed a disregard for human life or an indifference to the consequences.
  3. That a reasonable person in a similar situation would have known that the actions would have probably resulted in harm to other individuals.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

Criminal negligence laws can be difficult to understand and the criminal sentences can depend on whether the conduct was intentional, reckless or negligent. It would be beneficial to consult a local criminal lawyer who can provide you with legal counsel and representation.