Under criminal law, strict liability crimes are actions considered to be criminal regardless of the perpetrator’s intentions. Perpetrators, or “defendants” in legal terminology, of a strict liability crime may be found guilty even if they were not aware that their actions were criminal and even if they did not commit the criminal act intentionally or recklessly. There are three types of criminal intent as follows:
- General intent: General intent is an actual intent to perform some act but without a wish for any consequences that may follow from that act. An example of a general intent crime is driving under the influence (DUI). The driver does not intend any result or consequence. They simply intend the act of driving their car after they have consumed alcohol or drugs when their driving might be affected by their consumption of the substances.
- Specific intent: These crimes require that a perpetrator had the specific intent to commit the criminal act and achieve a criminal purpose of committing the particular criminal acts that constitute a crime. The crime of first-degree murder. A prosecutor can only convict a perpetrator of first-degree murder if they can prove that the perpetrator intended to kill their victim before they committed the fatal blow;
- Strict liability: As noted above, these crimes do not require proof of any kind of intent on the part of the perpetrator. Rather, a prosecutor can obtain a conviction by proving that only the perpetrator engaged in the conduct that constitutes the crime.
What Are Examples of Strict Liability Crimes?
There are many different types of strict liability crimes. Examples of strict liability crimes are the following:
- Statutory rape. Statutory rape is consensual sexual activity with a minor. Statutory rape laws make it illegal for anyone to have consensual sexual activity with a minor, usually a person under the age of 16, regardless of the person’s intent. So, even if the offender believes that their partner is of legal age, if they are not, the offender is guilty of statutory rape. The minor may even have told the person that they were 16 or older.
- This does not matter. One does not need to intend to have sexual interaction with a minor to be found guilty of statutory rape;
- Selling Alcohol to Minors. A person who sells alcohol to a minor can be found guilty even if they sincerely thought that the buyer of the alcohol was old enough;
- Traffic Offenses. Most traffic offenses are strict liability crimes. For example, one will get a speeding ticket even if the ticketed person did not intend to speed or did not think they were speeding. If law enforcement has reliable evidence that a person drove in excess of the speed limit, the person can be charged with a speeding violation.
What Is Strict Liability in Tort Law?
In tort law, strict liability imposes liability on a party without a finding of negligence or other basis for fault. A person who claims strict liability in civil law needs to prove only that conduct that gives rise to liability happened, and the person who engaged in the conduct was the one who is responsible.
The major strict liability categories in tort law are as follows:
- Strict Product Liability: The doctrine of strict product liability makes the manufacturer and distributors of products liable for any harm their products cause if the products are defective in any way. In the case of strict product liability, if the defect in a product is the direct cause of harm to a person, the person may recover an award of damages to compensate them for their losses.
The victim does not have to prove that the manufacturer or distributors were negligent or reckless in any way. The victim must only prove that a product was defective and that it caused them injury in order to recover damages for their losses. Generally, defects are classified as one of three types as follows:
- Design Defect: A design defect is one that arises when a product is in its design phase. For whatever reason, it is not detected, or it is, but it is ignored;
- Manufacturing Defect: A manufacturing defect is created when a product is manufactured. The manufacturer may use faulty or flawed material in the production of the product. Or a machine involved in the production may malfunction in some way and create a flaw or defect in a product;
- Warning Defect: A manufacturer has a duty to warn customers of known risks that the use of their products creates. In addition, a manufacturer should provide instructions. These may address how to assemble a product that requires assembly or simply how to use it in such a way as not to create any risk of harm.
- If a manufacturer places a product into the stream of commerce without the warnings and instructions it requires, they can be liable if this defect results in injury to a consumer.
Again, the important thing is that the victim of a product defect does not need to prove that the defect arose because of negligence on someone’s part. Rather, they only have to prove that a product had a defect that caused the victim injury.
The law in some states, e.g., California, places strict liability on the owners of animals if they cause harm to a person. For example, a state may have a dog bite statute that places strict liability on dog owners for injuries that their dog causes.
In the context of animal injuries, strict liability means that an owner is liable for injuries caused by their animal, and the victim does not have to prove that the owner knew or should have known that their animal was dangerous.
Strict liability means that an owner is legally responsible for an animal attack regardless of whether they knew or should have known that the animal was dangerous. In other words, the owner is automatically responsible if their dog bites someone.
In other states, e.g., Pennsylvania, animal bites are not a strict liability tort. A victim still has to prove that the owner knew or should have known that their animal had dangerous tendencies. They could prove this in a number of ways. They do not have to prove, e.g., that a dog bit someone on a prior occasion. Rather, they might show that the dog was known to lunge or growl at other people or pets or that witnesses had seen the animal behave aggressively.
Yet another strict liability tort is that of abnormally dangerous conditions or ultrahazardous activities. The doctrine of ultrahazardous activities provides that a person is liable for any injury caused by their activities if it is an inherently or abnormally dangerous activity. Even if they take every precaution, if the activity causes harm, the person engaged in the activity is liable.
There are defenses to strict liability civil torts. They are comparative fault, contributory negligence, and assumption of the risk. These defenses may protect a person from all or at least part of their liability for a strict liability tort.
Are There Any Defenses to Strict Liability Crimes?
Generally speaking, the only defense available to a charge of a strict liability crime is to prove that the alleged perpetrator did not actually do the acts that constitute the crime.
One way to do this is by claiming the alibi defense. In the alibi defense, the alleged perpetrator claims that they were somewhere else, perhaps with someone else at the time of the offense. The alleged perpetrator basically claims that they have been misidentified as the perpetrator.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you have been charged with any kind of crime, you want to consult a criminal defense lawyer. LegalMatch.com can connect you to an experienced lawyer who knows how to protect your rights.
A lawyer can review the facts of your case and determine if any defenses are available to you. They can possibly negotiate a reduced charge, a plea agreement, or represent you at trial if that should become necessary.