Criminal negligence occurs when someone fails to use reasonable care to avoid causing or threatening harm to another person. In order for someone to be guilty of criminal negligence, they must know that their actions could lead to injury or death.
Intentional Conduct vs. Recklessness
Most crimes involve what is known as intentional conduct. If you punch someone, you intend to cause them harm which can lead to an assault charge. Just raising your arm but not striking them is an unintentional use of force but cannot be considered assault. The problem is that severe injury and death can occur even when the actions that led to the injury or death were not intentional. In those cases, the terms used are reckless or negligent. Recklessness would be someone who understands what they are doing is risky, but they choose to do so anyway. One example would be drag racing on a highway in which someone in another car is struck and killed. The intent was not to kill someone, but the actions that led to their death were reckless.
Intentional Conduct vs. Negligence
Although more commonly used in civil cases, negligence can be used in criminal cases as well. Courts often make a distinction between negligence and recklessness, indicating that someone who is reckless knew what they were doing was dangerous while someone who is negligent should have known the dangers. Someone texting and driving who rear-ends someone, causing severe injury, may be considered negligent rather than reckless. For this reason, someone charged with criminal negligence may actually have been reckless, but the outcome was the same.
Reasonable Person Standard
One aspect of criminal negligence laws is what is known as the “reasonable person standard.” Under this standard, the person charged must have acted in a way that a reasonable person would not have acted and must have known, as any reasonable person would, that what they did could cause harm. For example, driving while intoxicated is something any reasonable person understands could lead to death or injury. Therefore, a person driving under the influence who causes and accident that leads to death or injury can be charged with criminal negligence because they should have known, under the reasonable person standard, that an accident was a possibility.
It is possible that someone charged with criminal negligence could use their mental state as a defense. If the person has a mental or physical disability that would prevent them from seeing how their actions could lead to serious consequences, the court may determine that they are not guilty of criminal negligence. The law still requires people to exercise due diligence before engaging in certain activities, even if there is a mental or physical disability, but if the person can demonstrate that their disability prevented them from understanding the consequences of their actions, they may have an adequate defense against criminal negligence.
In some instances, it is possible to avoid criminal negligence charges if it can be proven that precautions were taken to prevent the injury or death. For example, if a parachutist dies because a parachute did not open, the person responsible for the maintenance of the parachute may not be held liable if they can demonstrate that the equipment had been inspected, lessons were given and that the person who died was well aware of the risks they were taking.
Criminal negligent homicide in New York is a Class E felony, A conviction could mean up to four years in jail and a substantial fine. If you or a loved one is facing charges of criminal negligence, contact our office today to see how we can help. You can arrange for an initial consultation by calling or reaching us online.