The following is a guest post from Avery Appelman, a criminal defense attorney in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Avery and his team specialize in DUI, drug and traffic offenses, and he regularly blogs about a wide range of criminal law topics. If you ever need legal assistance when visiting Minnesota, give Avery and his team a call.
In all walks of life, you are responsible for your behavior, but you’re held to a higher standard when engaging in activities that could jeopardize the safety of others. One such activity is driving, because all it takes is a momentary lapse in judgement to result in a fatal car accident. When it comes to auto accidents, there are some crashes that are unavoidable, while others are directly caused by negligence and recklessness by the driver. That’s not to say that the driver intentionally caused the accident, but they acted in such a way that they should have been aware of the risk they were causing to others. When a person meets this threshold, they are considered to be criminally negligent for the crash that occurred.
Types of Criminal Negligence
When it comes to pinpointing criminally negligent actions behind the wheel, you’re not going to find a perfect definition here in the US. Many states have varying definitions of what constitutes criminal negligence, while others require a more reckless set of actions to be met. What may be considered a criminally negligent driving behavior in one state may be viewed differently in their neighboring state.
As a general rule to be found criminally negligent, the court will determine if you were acting in such a way that you should reasonably have understood the risk you were posing to others. This is easier to illustrate with examples. Let’s say you were speeding five miles over the limit, or you looked down to change the radio station at the moment the car in front of you hit the breaks because something flew off the back of the truck in front of them. While your actions were in violation of the law, in that you were speeding or looking down at the radio, it’s unlikely that you’ll be found criminally negligent for causing the crash. Your speed was not excessive, and it’s impossible to imagine that every person keeps their eyes on the road every second of their commute. You can still be charged because your actions caused an accident or injuries, but it’s unlikely that you’ll face upgraded charges for criminal negligence.
On the flip side, there are a number of actions that will lead to upgraded charges due to your criminal negligence no matter whether you’re in Florida, Minnesota or some other state in the US. Here are a number of examples of criminally negligent behavior behind the wheel.
- Driving drunk
- Driving while under the influence of drugs or other intoxicants
- Traveling at excessive speeds
- Intentionally ignoring traffic lights or signs
- Street racing
- Failing to properly secure loads you’re carrying
This is far from a complete list, but it gives you an idea of what factors need to be present in order for your driving actions to meet the threshold of being criminally negligent. If you knew or should have known the risks of your actions, but you did it anyway, you can be face stiffer charges due in part to your criminal negligence.
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Texting and Driving and Criminal Negligence
One subject we didn’t mention above is texting and driving. The reason we didn’t include it in the list is because phone use behind the wheel is something that varies greatly from state to state. For instance, in Minnesota you can be stopped if an officer sees you texting behind the wheel. In fact, we recently passed a hands-free law that means even using one hand to hold a phone up to your ear while driving is cause for a citation. In Florida, texting and driving isn’t even a primary offense, meaning that police cannot stop you just because they saw you texting behind the wheel. They need to see another infraction in order to stop your vehicle and issue a citation for texting behind the wheel.
Because of how differently both of these states penalize texting behind the wheel, criminal negligence for drivers who cause accidents while texting and driving is often determined on a case by case basis. If you checked your phone because you were expecting a text from your daughter and you caused an accident, you may not face upgraded charges, but if the court checks your phone records and sees that you sent 25 text messages in the 10 minutes leading up to the crash you caused, there may be an element of criminal negligence.
At the end of the day, it’s important to avoid behaviors that can be deemed negligent or reckless behind the wheel. Some accidents are unavoidable, while others are directly caused by poor choices. Don’t let a poor choice lead to felony charges, and regardless of the type of charges you face in the wake of an accident, it’s in your best interest to hire a lawyer to help fight your case for you.