criminal negligence | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Criminal Law

In the context of criminal law, criminal negligence refers to a type of criminal liability that is based on a failure to exercise the level of care that a reasonable person would exercise in a similar situation. It involves a lack of awareness or conscious disregard for the foreseeable consequences of one’s actions or inactions.

Criminal negligence is a less blameworthy form of criminal liability than intentional or reckless conduct. In order to be found guilty of a crime based on criminal negligence, the prosecution must prove that the accused person owed a duty of care to the victim, that the accused person breached that duty of care through their actions or inactions, and that the breach of that duty of care caused the victim’s injuries or death.

Examples of criminal negligence might include a parent who leaves a young child unsupervised near a swimming pool, a driver who texts while driving and causes an accident, or a doctor who fails to diagnose a patient’s condition properly and causes harm as a result. In each of these cases, the accused person’s actions or inactions showed a lack of care or concern for the safety of others and resulted in harm to the victim.

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Last Modified: 01/09/2023


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