The terms “negligence” and “recklessness” are often tossed around in legal jargon when talking about criminal charges. Defendants are often accused of having acted negligently or recklessly when they allegedly committed a crime. If you looked up the basic definition of these words in a dictionary, they would appear quite similar. However, they are used very differently in the legal field and do not mean the same thing. Understanding this distinction could be crucial to understanding the criminal charges against you. Read on to learn about the difference between criminal negligence and recklessness from our Utah criminal defense attorneys at Overson Law, PLLC.
Definitions of Criminal Negligence and Recklessness in Utah
To be guilty of a crime, a person must have had the appropriate criminal intent to commit that crime. It is usually not enough to just commit a criminal act. A defendant must also have a guilty mind if they are to be convicted. Different crimes may require different levels of intent. The Utah Criminal Code has four levels of criminal intent. To be criminally culpable, a defendant must have acted intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently.
Under § 76-2-103 of the Utah Criminal Code, recklessness is defined as a disregard by the defendant for a significant and unjustifiable risk. The risk must be so substantial that disregarding it would be considered a gross deviation from the actions expected of an ordinary person under the circumstances. The risk involved is often subjective. Exactly how reckless a defendant is will depend on the circumstances unique to their case.
Criminal negligence is similar to recklessness, but it does not require that the defendant be aware of the risk when they act. Instead, the situation is one in which the defendant should have been aware of the risk but was not. The risk involved must be so significant that an ordinary person would realize it. The defendant’s failure to recognize the risk is what makes their actions criminally negligent.
Types of Cases Where Criminal Negligence and Recklessness Are Used in Utah
Recklessness and negligence are less common forms of criminal intent. Criminal offenses tend to require a more purposeful or knowing level of intent. However, some crimes do not require that the defendant intend to commit a crime. Reckless and negligent crimes are often unintentional. For example, a reckless act might be one in which a defendant fires a gun into a crowd in an attempt to disperse the crowd. The defendant may not have intended to shoot or harm anyone, but the risk of someone being struck by the bullet is so great that an ordinary person would not have fired the gun in the first place.
On the other hand, negligence sounds very close to recklessness, but the defendant may not have knowledge of the risk. For example, in the same scenario just mentioned, assume that the defendant fired the gun upward instead of into the crowd. Their intent is still the same, to get the crowd to disperse. However, this time the bullet ricochets off a lamppost and strikes someone in the crowd. The defendant can be said to have acted negligently because they were not aware that the bullet could ricochet and hit someone.
For both criminal negligence and recklessness, the defendant is acting in the face of significant risk. However, in a case of negligence, the defendant is unaware of the risk but should be. In a matter of recklessness, the defendant is aware of the risk and chooses to act anyway.
Recklessness as a Part of Criminal Negligence in Utah
Recklessness and negligence seem to go hand in hand. It might be difficult to tell the difference between a case of criminal negligence and a case of criminal recklessness. Both instances involve significant risk. Both instances also include actions on the part of the defendant that no ordinary person would take under the circumstances. However, the critical difference between these two concepts is the defendant’s knowledge or awareness.
From the outside, a particular crime might appear to be a case of reckless behavior on the defendant’s part. This is because we cannot know the defendant’s mindset until after they have been arrested and questioned. For this reason, crimes of negligence are often labeled as crimes of recklessness until more information comes to light.
Defending Against Charges of Criminal Negligence or Recklessness in Utah
Defending against criminal charges involving negligence will be different than defending against charges of recklessness. Each is a different type of criminal intent and therefore requires different defense strategies.
Defending yourself against criminal charges involving recklessness can be done by arguing that you were unaware of the risk. Recklessness requires that the defendant has acted with the knowledge of significant and unjustifiable risk. If the defendant did not know of the risk, their charges could be downgraded to a crime of negligence.
Defending against negligence is a bit different because the defendant was already unaware of the risk. Instead of arguing against the defendant’s knowledge of the risk, you could say that the defendant’s actions were justifiable or that an ordinary person would have done the same as the defendant under the same circumstances. These are not the only ways to defend against these criminal charges. Depending on your case, there could be many different effective defense strategies. You should consult with our Utah criminal defense lawyer for guidance on defending against criminal negligence or recklessness charges.
Both negligence and recklessness are measured against an ordinary person. If an ordinary person would act very differently than the defendant under the same conditions, the defendant might be in trouble. This standard applies differently in each case. An ordinary person’s actions when they are aware of a high-level risk may not be the same as when they are unaware.
Contact Our Utah Criminal Defense Attorney for a Consultation
If you have been accused of a crime involving acts of negligence or recklessness, please contact our Provo criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. For a legal consultation, call Overson Law, PLLC at (801) 758-2287.