Negligence is an important legal concept in civil court, but there is also a version of it for criminal court. Criminal negligence is part of what the prosecution must prove in involuntary crimes, like involuntary manslaughter.
Knowing California’s legal definition of criminal negligence can keep you from committing certain crimes or help you understand your charges. Here’s what you need to know.
Civil Negligence vs Criminal Negligence
Negligence is when someone acts in a way that puts the public at risk. It’s something a reasonable person in the same situation would not do. The law recognizes the difference between civil and criminal negligence.
Civil negligence is what lawyers try to prove in lawsuits. To meet this standard, lawyers must prove someone went over the boundaries of a duty of care by a preponderance of the evidence. It does not have to be extreme; a moment’s inattention while driving could be considered civil negligence.
Criminal negligence takes it much further. It’s a drastic difference from how a normal person would act in the situation and must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This means there is no other explanation for why the dangerous situation happened in the first place beyond negligence.
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The Role of Intent in a Crime
In a criminal case, the court must prove that an alleged criminal intended to commit a crime. Criminal negligence is an action so out of the ordinary and dangerous that it’s impossible to separate it from actual intent.
It goes beyond a mistake in judgement or being momentarily careless. Criminal negligence claims must create a risk of death or injury, as well as an indifference to human life. Also, a reasonable person in the same situation would know not to do that action.
One example might be discharging a firearm at home as part of a celebration. Bullets falling out of the air can hurt or kill someone, but the people shooting might not care. A reasonable person would know this is a dangerous act.
Defenses Against Criminal Negligence in California
There are three main defenses against a criminal negligence claim. The first is that it was truly a mistake. A criminal defense lawyer might argue that a defendant’s actions were just a mistake and not a reckless disregard that meets the level of criminal negligence.
The second is that the defendant had no way of knowing their actions would create risk or was truly ignorant of the risk. The defendant must know that whatever they did has a risk of injury or death to someone.
The third is a proof of reasonable care. If your lawyer can show that what you did truly was in the standards of reasonableness, then an accusation of criminal negligence cannot stand.
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Punishment for Criminal Negligence in California
In a civil case, the price for negligence is literally that. They must pay damages, money, as the cost of that negligence. The state can apply fines, but they can also send you to jail or put you on probation.
Criminal negligence can be charged on its own, but it is also a foundation for proving other serious crimes, like involuntary manslaughter. The exact punishment will depend on the situation in your case. A criminal defense lawyer can advise you about what you’re facing and what to do.
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Examples of Criminal Negligence in California
One very common form of criminal negligence is texting and driving, then causing a fatal crash. Anyone who has tried texting and driving knows how distracting it is from the road, and how dangerous it can be. The level of distraction meets the standard of criminal negligence.
The medical field can be open to criminal negligence, especially if direct harm can be proven. A nurse that gives the wrong medication or dosage and causes a patient’s injury or death could be considered criminally negligent.
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