Criminal Negligence: Definition, Law & Examples

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  • 0:00 Criminal Negligence Defined
  • 1:11 Criminal Negligence With a Gun
  • 2:47 Criminal Negligence…
  • 3:45 Criminal Negligence…
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Janell Blanco
In this lesson, we will discuss the definition of criminal negligence. We will also look at examples and discuss different laws covering criminal negligence, such as those related to driving and firearms.

Criminal Negligence Defined

Every Saturday, Jeremy, who lives in Anaheim, California, practices target shooting in his own yard, which is in the middle of town. He knows he shouldn't do this. He doesn't see the big deal, though, until one day he misses his target and shoots his neighbor who has been outside mowing his lawn.

Jeremy's actions were criminally negligent. Criminal negligence is also known as culpable negligence. Someone commits criminal negligence when that person is careless with his or her actions to the extent that he or she pays no regards to other people's rights and safety. Criminally negligent people don't care about the consequences of their actions. Criminal negligence can also be viewed as putting an individual's life or body in harm's way by meaningfully disobeying a statute or law that is in place to protect people.

In the example, Jeremy knew he shouldn't be shooting a gun in his yard, and he was intentionally breaking the law. Was he acting in a criminally negligent manner? Let's take a look at some examples of criminal negligence and discuss Jeremy's actions.

Criminal Negligence With a Gun

Jeremy intentionally shot his gun in town when he knew it was wrong. Since Jeremy lives in California, he would be charged with a crime since the state has a negligent discharge of a firearm law. While state-specific laws may vary, California law states that the three following elements would have to be present to find the defendant criminally negligent in the discharge of a firearm:

  1. The defendant willingly fired a BB gun or a firearm
  2. The discharge of the gun could have resulted in a person's death or injury
  3. The person acted in a grossly negligent or seriously negligent manner

Do you think that Jeremy should be charged with criminal negligence? He willingly fired a firearm in town, which resulted in injuring his neighbor. Additionally, he knew that it was unlawful to fire his gun in town. So, yes, Jeremy would be charged with criminal negligence in California.

Another example of criminal negligence involving a firearm occurred in North Carolina. In a 2003 case known as State of North Carolina v. Isaac Reynolds, Reynolds was found guilty of first-degree murder and also found criminally negligent. In an altercation with his girlfriend, Reynolds attempted to hit a gun that was loaded and ready to fire away from her hands. The gun went off, and the woman suffered a fatal shot. Reynolds was criminally negligent because he knew that the weapon could cause bodily harm, and he also knew that attempting to take the weapon from her hands would increase the chances of the gun going off.

Criminal Negligence While Driving

Criminal negligence can occur when an individual drives his or her vehicle in a distracted or harmful manner that results in a crash, self-inflicted injuries, or injuries to another person. Criminal negligence while driving can include:

  • Driving while drowsy or tired
  • Speeding
  • Texting and driving
  • Driving while impaired, meaning under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Currently, there are 44 states with laws that prohibit texting and driving. Texting while driving can be considered criminally negligent because the driver knows what he or she is doing is wrong and continues to drive distracted.

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