Omission | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee


Course: Introduction / Criminal Law

An omission is a failure to perform legally required activities, such as paying taxes or providing care to children; a type of actus reus in criminal law.

In criminal law, actus reus refers to the physical or external element of a crime, such as an act or an omission. An omission is a type of actus reus that refers to a failure to perform a legally required activity or duty. This can include failing to act in situations where there is a legal obligation to act, such as failing to report a crime or provide care to a dependent.

An omission can take many forms in criminal law. For example, parents have a legal duty to provide care and support to their children. Failing to provide adequate care and support can result in criminal charges of child neglect or abuse. Similarly, employers have a legal duty to provide safe working conditions for their employees. Failing to provide a safe workplace can result in criminal charges of occupational health and safety violations.

In addition to criminal charges, omissions can also result in civil liability. For example, failing to fulfill contractual obligations or failing to provide adequate warning of potential hazards can result in civil lawsuits for breach of contract or negligence.

One of the challenges of prosecuting omissions in criminal law is proving that the defendant had a legal duty to act. In some cases, the legal duty to act may be established through a specific statute or law. In other cases, the duty to act may be implied based on the circumstances of the case.

The severity of the consequences of an omission in criminal law can vary depending on the nature of the omission and the harm caused. For example, failing to pay taxes may result in fines or other penalties, while failing to provide adequate care to a dependent may result in imprisonment.

In recent years, there has been growing concern about the criminalization of omissions in certain areas of the law. For example, some advocates have argued that criminalizing homelessness or poverty-related activities, such as sleeping in public places, amounts to criminalizing an omission. They argue that this type of criminalization is unfair and disproportionately affects marginalized communities.

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Last Modified: 04/05/2023


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