What Is Negligent Homicide?
Negligent homicide is what happens when one person accidentally kills another by engaging in careless or reckless behavior. Penalties for negligent homicide could include prison time and fines. A criminal defense attorney can represent you if the police accuse you of negligent homicide.
What Counts as Negligent Homicide?
The authorities may accuse you of negligent homicide if your behavior is so careless or reckless that another person dies as a result.
Examples of negligent homicide include:
- A mechanic tells you that a piece of equipment you use regularly needs major repairs. You choose not to have the repairs done and continue to use the equipment or have others use it. Someone dies when the equipment malfunctions.
- You play around with what you believe to be an unloaded gun, but you do not personally check the weapon. The gun goes off, killing someone else.
- You leave a dangerous weapon or substance out in the open where you know a child could get to it. The child dies after using the weapon or eating the substance.
- You get into a fight with another person. In defending yourself, you use excessive force and accidentally kill the other person.
In each of these examples, the person did not intend to kill anyone. They may not have even realized that their actions could be deadly. Nevertheless, someone died because of their actions and this is a punishable crime in the eyes of the law.
Other Types of Homicide
Negligent homicide is one of several crimes that describe the unlawful death of another person.
- First-degree murder: Police may use this charge when someone intentionally plots and executes a murder, or when a person kills another while committing a serious crime (e.g., arson or robbery).
- Second-degree murder: If a person intentionally but spontaneously (i.e., there was no planning involved) kills another, or if a person engages in behavior that they know may kill another, the police could charge them with second-degree murder.
- Manslaughter: Manslaughter encompasses a wide range of circumstances, including crimes of passion, fatal drunk driving accidents, and assisting in someone else’s suicide.
The charge you face will depend not only on what actually happened but also on the police’s perception of what happened, how much evidence the prosecution can find, and if your lawyer can get the charge reduced.
Murder vs. Homicide
The biggest difference between murder and homicide is intention. In other words, did you mean to kill anyone? If yes, you may face murder charges. If not, you may face a manslaughter or negligent homicide charge.
This is the reason why murder charges tend to be more severe than homicide charges: while any loss of life is tragic, taking life deliberately is more serious than doing so by accident.
Penalties for Negligent Homicide
There are several different “levels” or classes that the law uses to divide and differentiate criminal actions. Usually, Class 1 or Class A offenses are the most serious, and crimes decrease in severity as the numbers get higher or you work your way down the alphabet.
The law classifies negligent homicide as one of the “less serious” types of homicide. If convicted, the penalties you face may not be as burdensome as those for first-degree or second-degree murder. However, they can still have a devastating impact on all aspects of your life, including your:
A negligent homicide conviction could force you to spend a lengthy period of time behind bars, taking you away from your job long enough that your employer may fire you.
You could also have a hard time finding a good job after leaving prison. Many employers do not want to hire convicted felons, even those who were falsely convicted or have already served their sentence.
The impact on your career could also affect your ability to support your family and maintain their standard of living. If the judge sentences you to pay large fines or restitution, you may have to borrow money or deplete your life savings to meet your legal obligations.
Family and Social Life
Prison severely limits your access to family, friends, and loved ones. If you are sent to prison, you will not be able to watch your children grow up or participate in social gatherings.
Even after you leave prison, people you once shared close relationships with may not want to spend time with you. They may believe you are guilty, or they may not want to “sully” their reputation by spending time with a convicted felon.
Facing such a serious charge can have a negative effect on your mental health in and of itself. If you are convicted of such a crime and have to spend years behind bars, the impact could worsen significantly.
Prison is not a healthy environment, especially if you are condemned to spend years of your life there. The mental effects of your punishment could stay with you for the rest of your life.
All of the above factors can have long-lasting consequences for both your future and your family’s future.
What if This Isn’t Your First Conviction?
If you have prior convictions for negligent homicide or a similar crime (e.g., assault or manslaughter), you could face harsher penalties than if you have no prior criminal record. Fines and prison terms tend to increase with each conviction and so does the toll on your finances, family, and health.
What you do now could very well determine your entire future. As soon as the police charge you with negligent homicide, it’s a good idea to find an attorney to represent you. Your attorney can ensure that no one makes unfair assumptions about your case, no matter what your record looks like.
What Lawyers Do in Negligent Homicide Cases
Many of the penalties described above are certainly unfair. Once someone has “paid their debt to society,” they should not have to endure further discrimination and punishment from that society.
If you are accused of any crime, including negligent homicide, it’s in your best interest to contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately.
Do not try to convince the police of your innocence or answer any questions until you have:
- Told them that you are invoking your right to remain silent
- Told them that you are invoking your right to an attorney
- Contacted an attorney to represent you
- Received advice from your attorney about what to say and what not to say
Once your lawyer arrives, they can take action to protect your rights by:
- Sitting in on any interrogations the police conduct
- Finding out what evidence the police have already collected
- Preventing the police from asking unlawful questions or coercing you into a confession
- Arranging for bail so you do not have to stay in jail while awaiting trial
With the right lawyer, your case could end after this initial encounter, for example, the police may realize they do not have sufficient evidence to hold you and let you go. However, if the police have strong evidence against you or good reason to believe in your guilt, you may have to rely on your lawyer for continuing protection.
In the United States, the legal system depends on the “presumption of innocence” in other words, the prosecution bears the burden of proof and must show beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. The criminal defense attorney’s job is to instill doubt in the prosecution’s story.
The types of evidence available in your case depend on your specific circumstances.
Your lawyer might look for:
- People who were there and saw what really happened
- People who know you well and can serve as character witnesses
- Video footage that shows the fatal incident, in whole or in part
- Police reports and records that show whether or not the authorities followed the law and respected your rights at all times
- Any information that discredits the witnesses or evidence brought forward by the prosecution
Negotiating or Bargaining
If you are charged with a crime, you may assume that your case must inevitably go to trial. This is not necessarily true.
Your criminal defense lawyer might pursue alternative options, such as:
- The prosecution may offer a plea deal. They will reduce the charge against you if you agree to plead guilty to that lesser charge.
- Your lawyer may convince the prosecution to lower the charges. Unlike a plea deal, reduced charges do not require you to enter a guilty plea. Your case would continue through the regular channels, but now you would face lighter penalties in the event of a conviction.
- The prosecution may agree to drop all charges. If your lawyer finds very strong evidence of police misconduct and/or your innocence, you could go home right away without having to fear any further legal action.
Representing You at a Trial
What happens if your case does end up in court? Your attorney could serve as your courtroom advocate by:
- Selecting jury members who can consider your case fairly and without bias
- Submitting trial exhibits (evidence) and any other materials the judge requests in accordance with courtroom procedure
- Following all rules and regulations to keep your case running smoothly and making sure the prosecution follows these regulations as well
- Questioning witnesses brought in to speak either for or against you
- Speaking on your behalf by delivering opening and closing arguments before a jury
Remember that your lawyer does not have to create an airtight case for your innocence. As long as they convince the jury that the prosecution has presented a flawed case, the jury has a legal obligation to set you free.
Why Hire a Negligent Homicide Attorney?
The police and the courts are not your advocates: even those who may want to help you are bound by the law to follow certain rules, which include not “playing favorites.” When you face criminal charges, the only legal professional who can assist you is a criminal defense attorney.
If you face negligent homicide charges, you will want to act fast as you look for and choose an attorney.
Here are some things to look for in a criminal defense lawyer:
- A good listener: When you tell the attorney about your situation, do they seem attentive and interested? For example, do they take notes or ask follow-up questions?
- A compassionate supporter: This is a frightening and difficult time for you. Your attorney should understand that and express proper patience and empathy with your situation.
- A wealth of experience: Has the legal team handled negligent homicide cases before? What were the outcomes in those cases? Even if an attorney has great reviews and a lot of experience, they may not be able to mount an effective defense if they have limited experience with cases like yours.
- An open book: You do not want a lawyer who will keep you in the dark. See how willing they are to answer your questions and keep you updated as your case progresses.
No law firm can guarantee success in every case. However, they can take away much of the confusion and stress associated with building a criminal defense.
Are Negligent Homicide Attorneys Worth the Money?
When determining whether or not a law firm is worth the price, consider what would happen if you lost your case.
- Have to spend years behind bars, away from your family, and unable to earn the money they depend on?
- Be ordered to pay large amounts in fines or restitution?
- Suffer irreparable harm to your reputation?
- Lose everything you have built up and worked for your entire life?
Weigh these possibilities against the cost of legal expenses and attorney’s fees. If you have any questions about legal costs, you can ask your lawyer.
Reach out to a Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Everyone deserves access to dedicated, compassionate legal help. If you have been accused of negligent homicide or another crime, an attorney can fight hard for your rights and make sure that all representatives of the law respect those rights at every turn.
Contact a Phoenix criminal defense law firm for legal help or more information about what happens if you negligent homicide.