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People facing criminal charges might hear the term “criminal negligence.” While negligence is often related to civil lawsuits, criminal cases can be based on a similar standard.

This is surprising for many people because most crimes require the defendant to act with some level of intent to break the law.

Crimes based on criminal negligence have a relatively low bar, making them easier for prosecutors to pursue.

However, the St. Paul criminal defense attorneys at Arechigo & Stokka know the best defenses against criminal negligence.

Please contact our office to arrange a consultation.

Criminal Negligence Definition

Negligence is a failure to exercise reasonable care, resulting in harm to someone else.

A victim of a negligent act can sue the actor to recover damages caused by the harm. Most negligent behavior does not support criminal charges.

On the other hand, criminal negligence exists when someone didn’t intend to cause harm, but their negligence was so severe that it warrants criminal charges.

According to the Minnesota Supreme Court, crimes involving negligence require a gross deviation from how a reasonable person would behave. In these cases, an individual intends to act in a certain way.

Even if the person didn’t intend to cause harm, their actions are so dangerous that a reasonable person would understand the associated risks.

These acts are so hazardous that society deems it necessary to punish the conduct. 

Criminal Negligence Involves a Less Culpable Mental State Than Other Crimes

Juries often need to find that a defendant acted with a certain mental state to find the defendant guilty of a crime. Depending on the crime, the required mental state may be:

  • Intentionally, 
  • Knowingly,
  • Recklessly, or 
  • Negligently.

For many charges, the defendant needs to have an intentional or knowing mental state.

This means that it was the defendant’s purpose to commit the act, or that they acted with an awareness that their conduct would cause a particular result.

“Negligently” is the lowest level of mental state. If a crime requires only a negligent mental state, a defendant can be guilty even if they did not intend to harm someone. 

Charges That Involve Criminal Negligence

The Minnesota Statutes set out several crimes that require the defendant to act with criminal negligence. 

Some of these criminal negligence examples have different elements that demonstrate the type of conduct that can be criminal. 

Criminal Vehicular Homicide

The law defines this crime as killing someone as a result of operating a motor vehicle. However, the law states that the actor’s negligent conduct is what separates this crime from murder or manslaughter. 

Someone is guilty of criminal vehicular homicide if they kill someone with a car:

  • In a grossly negligent manner;
  • In a negligent manner while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance;
  • In a negligent manner while under the influence of an intoxicating substance and the person knows or has reason to know that the substance has the capacity to cause impairment; or
  • In a negligent manner while any amount of a controlled substance listed in Schedule I or II, or its metabolite, other than marijuana or tetrahydrocannabinols, is present in the person’s body. 

These elements show how the required negligent conduct is inherently dangerous, such as drinking and driving. 

Manslaughter in the Second Degree

The Minnesota Statutes provide several acts that could cause someone to be guilty of manslaughter in the second degree. 

Someone must cause the death of another person by: 

  • Acting with culpable negligence by consciously taking the chance of causing death or great bodily harm to another; 
  • Shooting another person with a dangerous weapon as a result of negligently believing the other to be an animal; 
  • Setting up a dangerous weapon or device like a pitfall or snare;
  • Negligently or intentionally allowing a vicious animal to run freely on their property, or allowing the animal to escape the property; or
  • Committing or attempting to neglect or endanger a child. 

These acts surpass ordinary negligence because they pose a high risk of causing harm to someone.

Negligent Storage of Firearms

The law states that it is illegal to negligently store or leave a loaded firearm in a location where a reasonable person would know that a child is likely to gain access.

However, the law does not apply if someone takes reasonable action to prevent a child from accessing the weapon.

For example, leaving a gun on your nightstand would be negligent because a child could reach it. But putting a firearm in a locked safe wouldn’t be a crime because that’s a reasonable way to prevent access.

Is Criminal Negligence a Felony?

Someone who commits a crime that requires criminal negligence may be guilty of a felony. 

Minnesota defines a felony as “a crime for which a sentence of imprisonment for more than one year may be imposed.”

Several of the crimes listed in the previous sections include sentences that can exceed one year in prison.

For example, someone who commits manslaughter in the second degree can be sentenced to prison for up to ten years.

Keep in mind that criminal negligence itself is not a crime. It is a mental state that someone has when committing an act. The offense is engaging in the act with the negligent mental state. 

Defenses Against Criminal Negligence Charges

Even if a defendant committed an act, their criminal defense attorneys can argue that they did not act negligently. 

Common defenses to criminal negligence include:

  • No duty of care,
  • Mistake or accident,
  • Reasonable care was taken, and
  • No knowledge of the risk. 

Each of these defenses negates a necessary element to prove negligence. If a prosecutor cannot overcome the defense, the jury cannot find the defendant guilty because the State cannot prove all elements of negligence. 

How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

Facing a criminal charge is a stressful experience, even for someone with absolute proof of innocence. On top of this, the system does not make it easy to launch a defense.

This is where a criminal defense attorney comes into the picture. They can meet you in jail right after your arrest and will be there to guide you until the matter is over. 

They assess the details of the case, conduct investigations, and form defenses tailored to your circumstances.

If necessary, your defense attorneys might negotiate with prosecutors to pursue plea bargains or reduced charges.

And if your case goes to trial, your lawyer will present evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and advocate to the jury that you are innocent. 

Contact a Minnesota Criminal Defense Attorney

At Arechigo & Stokka, we have represented many clients who faced charges involving criminal negligence.

We have 30 years of combined criminal defense experience and know the best ways to fight against prosecutors.

Attorney John Archegio has also won Attorney of the Year in 2015 and 2019 for his superb criminal defense practice.

With our hard work and tenacity, many of our clients received a reduced criminal negligence sentence or avoided criminal charges altogether.

Call our office to schedule a consultation.

Author Photo John T. Arechigo, Esq.

Attorney John Arechigo has a passion for criminal defense in St. Paul, MN. John received his J.D., from Hamline University School of Law and also carries a Bachelor of Arts from, The University of Minnesota. John was named Attorney of the Year for 2019 by Minnesota Lawyer. Additionally, John was also named as a 2019 Rising Star and was selected to Minnesota Super Lawyers in 2021. He devotes nearly 100% of his practice to defending individuals charged with a crime.

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