What is negligent homicide?

Negligent homicide is a criminal charge against a person who unintentionally allows another person to die through criminal negligence. For example, if a person is texting while driving a car and hits and kills another person, the action is considered a negligent operation. Negligent homicide isn’t considered a felony, but state laws vary and you can face up to 10 years in prison for negligent homicide.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jun 29, 2022

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In the United States, negligent homicide is a subset of most state homicide statutes and is usually the lowest category for an offense that results in the death of another person. An individual charged with negligent homicide should understand how a negligent homicide is charged, the range of potential punishments of a felony conviction, and the possible defenses.

Homicide is a general category of charges for situations where one person causes the death of another person. Intent controls how homicide is charged. If a person wanted another person dead and plotted and eventually caused the death by the intentional killing of that individual, that person could be charged with murder, one of the highest degrees of homicide.

Keep reading to find out what is the most common form of negligent homicide and how many years do you get for criminally negligent homicide. If you need further legal help, just enter your ZIP code below.

Is negligent homicide a felony?

Negligent homicide is a much lower intent crime than capital murder and is used as a charge when one person causes the death of another through criminal negligence.

The charge does not involve premeditation but focuses on what the defendant should have known and the risks associated with what he did know.

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What are the elements of negligent homicide?

The first element of criminal liability that a state must prove in negligent homicide cases is that the defendant was aware of an unjustifiable risk associated with the events that led to the death of another person. For example, if the victim and the defendant were playing with a gun, and the victim was shot but the defendant refused to call for medical help, the defendant could be charged with negligent homicide because most people know the risks associated with a gunshot wound. When the defendant refused to act on the necessity of getting medical attention, he disregarded and showed no concern for an unjustifiable risk, which was the possible death of his friend.

The other main element is to show causation. This is a direct link between the negligent action and the death of an individual. For example, using the gunshot case, the state must show that if the defendant had not refused to obtain medical treatment, the victim would have survived.

What are possible punishments for a negligent homicide conviction?

Even though it is the lowest category of homicide offenses, negligent homicide is still a serious criminal offense.

Punishment can range from probation to time in a penitentiary. In Alaska, the maximum penalty is 10 years of prison time. In Texas, the punishment for negligent homicide ranges from 180 days up to 2 years in prison, with no possibility of parole. Overall, punishment in most states ranges from six months to 10 years for a negligent homicide conviction. Because criminal negligence is similar to general negligence, a defendant also risks facing an independent civil lawsuit for the unlawful killing of another individual.

What are possible defenses?

A defendant charged with any degree of homicide should understand the nature and punishment range for negligent homicide because that knowledge could help develop the defensive strategy.

A defendant charged with a higher degree of homicide, like murder or manslaughter charges, may want to seek a lesser-included charge of negligent homicide, which carries a lower range of punishment. For example, if the state alleges that a person intentionally ran over another person, a defendant may be able to produce enough evidence to show negligence, rather than intention, in causing the victim’s death. This defense tactic is used to make it appear that a defendant is accepting responsibility for an accidental death, a move that can gain credibility with a jury, with the additional advantage of a much shorter prison sentence on a lesser charge.

If a defendant were charged with negligent homicide, the best defense strategy would be to attack either causation or awareness of an unjustifiable risk. When attacking causation, a defendant is not denying that a person died but is challenging why and how the victim died. For example, if the victim and defendant were playing with a gun when the victim was shot, and the victim received such serious injuries that calling for emergency medical care would not have made a difference in the outcome, the defendant might be able to successfully challenge the cause of the victim’s death. A similar approach can be used for the risk element. If a defendant can show what others have done in similar situations, the defendant may be able to demonstrate that actions or omissions did not constitute an unreasonable risk.

Regardless of which strategy is used, any defendant charged with negligent homicide needs to understand that evidence must be preserved. For instance, since many companies or agencies only keep video footage for 30 days, a defendant who knows such videotapes exist should take steps to ensure that any evidence or other information that could help with the defense is properly preserved for review.

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What are some examples of negligent homicide?

  • When a person shoots his firearm and the bullet strikes and kills another person into the air during an outdoor holiday celebration
  • When someone drives through a stop sign and strikes another vehicle, killing the driver

How can I get legal help?

Negligent homicide charges are different from other homicide charges because they are used in such a wide variety of circumstances where one person causes the death of another. Negligent homicide charges also are used to prosecute companies that are aware of an unjustifiable risk, which caused the death of one or more people. Any corporation or individual charged with criminally negligent homicide should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to develop effective strategies and ensure a viable defense.

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