According to the Texas Penal Code Sec. 6.03. (d), “A person acts with criminal negligence, or is criminally negligent, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.’
For example, driving when extremely intoxicated, well aware of the dangers of causing a fatal road accident.
The risk, in a case of criminal negligence should be of a kind that any ordinary person must be aware of. In the above example, everyone knows that drinking alcohol impairs judgment, reasoning, motor skills, response time and vision. Therefore, the chances of causing a fatal car crash when driving under the influence are exceptionally high.
Criminal negligence covers acts of culpability in crime through negligent acts, omissions, or wrongful possessions. Here wrongful possession refers to voluntarily possessing something in full knowledge that it can result in negative consequences. For example, stockpiling highly flammable chemicals in a residential home, without training in their proper handling or special storage facilities.
The common thread in cases of criminal negligence is that the crime could have been avoided if the defendant exercised common sense.
Criminal negligence and civil negligence: What is the difference?
You’ve probably heard of civil negligence and may confuse it with criminal negligence. These charges are not the same thing. What differentiates them is the level of negligence.
In civil negligence, the acts of negligence referred to in this case, are not intentional. On the other hand, the careless conduct that results in a ruling of criminal negligence results from a disregard of normal behavior. Whereby the defendant does something that he or she is aware will result in dangerous consequences. Hence the reference to ‘gross deviation’ from normal behavior also referred to as reasonable care in the definition of criminal negligence.
Proving mens rea in a criminal negligence case
To decide whether a defendant has committed criminal or civil negligence, a defendant’s intention (mens rea) when committing the crime is scrutinized. The following four pointers are looked at concerning the crime committed;
- Intentional behavior – Did the defendant intentionally act recklessly, fully aware of the possible negative consequences of his actions?
- Knowing – Did the defendant know the act was wrong and was he or she aware of the possible hazardous consequences?
- Reckless – Were the actions of the defendant unjustifiably risky?
- Criminal negligence – Did the actions of the defendant grossly deviate from normal behavior?
Using precedence to prove liability in a criminal negligence case
It’s easy to prove the knowing and intentional behavior part of a defendant’s actions in a criminal case. For example, if you shoot someone and they die, you cannot argue that you did not realize your actions would lead to death.
However, proving recklessness and criminal negligence is not so easy.
In Robert Alan Queeman V. State of Texas case, Mr. Queeman was convicted for failing to prevent his van from colliding with another and causing the death of the other driver.
To prove criminal negligence in the Queeman v. State, counsel needed to prove the following;
- The defendant’s gross deviation from normal behavior e.g., Did Queeman fail to maintain a safe distance and speed in the accident, thereby neglecting his duty to prevent it?
- Was he to blame for causing the problem or failing to foresee it through criminal risk-creating behavior that was hugely unjustifiable? Did his actions directly result in the crime? e.g., By speeding or driving under the influence.
- Was he to blame in conduct for causing the crime e.g., Was the defendant aware of the risks of speeding while not paying attention to his surroundings?
How to beat a criminal negligence charge?
As you can see from the example above of the Queeman V. State cases, criminal negligence cases are complex. You need an excellent attorney to beat a criminal negligence charge. Your lawyer must be able to prove that;
- You’ve similarly conducted yourself before with no negative results hence you were unaware of the risks
- Your victim could have met the same end regardless of any change in your actions. Therefore, the crime could not have been avoided even in different circumstances
One thing is for sure, criminal negligence is a serious crime. If you are facing a charge of criminal negligence, the sooner you get counsel, the better. Contact a criminal negligence Texas lawyer today, for assistance with your case.