How Does It Differ from Civil Negligence?
In the American criminal justice system, a criminal conviction requires the prosecution to show that both a guilty mind (mens rea), and a guilty act (actus reus). In most instances, the frame of mind that makes one guilty of a crime involves either express intent (or “purpose”) or implied intent (based on knowledge). However, in certain limited circumstances, a person may be charged and convicted of committing a crime through reckless behavior or negligence.
How Is Criminal Negligence Different From Civil Negligence?
To understand the difference between criminal and civil negligence, it’s important to look at what distinguishes criminal law from civil law:
- The source of the law—Criminal law is derived from statutes, written laws passed by a legislature. A civil wrong, such as a tort or breach of contract, comes from the common law—the written opinions of judges that become precedent. As a general rule, those negligent acts that rise to the level of criminal negligence (and which become codified in criminal statutes) are those involving egregious conduct that constitutes a clear departure from reasonable standards of behavior.
- The burden of proof—In criminal prosecutions, the evidence must remove all reasonable doubt. In a civil lawsuit, the party seeking relief must typically prove their case by “a mere preponderance of the evidence.” That burden of proof requires only that the jury find one party’s evidence more persuasive than the other party’s evidence.
- The consequences—In a civil lawsuit, the result customarily involves one party compensating another party for their losses, though the court may also compel the losing party to perform a specific act (convey title to real property, for example). In a criminal prosecution, a party can be ordered to pay fines to the state, not an injured party, but the typical sentence involves incarceration or imprisonment.
- The parties—Criminal cases are always brought by a government body—federal, state, or local—on behalf of the citizenry. Civil lawsuits are generally between two or more private parties but may involve a government body that has suffered losses because of the wrongful conduct of individuals.
What Type of Conduct Is Considered Criminal Negligence?
One of the most common forms of criminal negligence is vehicular homicide, or the killing of another person while operating a motor vehicle. Though the law can differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, most states require proof of negligence before a person can be convicted of vehicular homicide. Typically, the prosecution must show that the driver failed to act as a reasonable person would and that the failure to do so caused the fatal accident.
What Do You Need to Know About Filing a Criminal Negligence Case?
Technically, a citizen cannot file a criminal negligence claim—only a prosecutor or other government attorney can file criminal charges. The government can file charges in a case where there is also a civil lawsuit based on the same conduct. For example, in a vehicular homicide case, the driver can be prosecuted for criminal negligence and the family of the victim can also file a civil lawsuit seeking damages. The cases will proceed in different courts before different judges.
What Are the Potential Penalties for Conviction of Criminal Negligence?
Unlike civil negligence, which commonly involves the payment of damages, criminal negligence carries the same penalties as other criminal offenses; fines, incarceration, and restitution are commonplace. Depending on the severity of the crime, criminal negligence may be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. In most instances involving criminally negligent homicide, for instance, the crime is considered a felony. In the state of New York, for example, a person charged with negligent homicide faces prosecution for a class E felony, with the potential for up to four years in prison.