What is criminal negligence?

For the uninitiated, crimes can be broken down into two types: those that are premeditated and those that aren’t. However, much of the time, there’s a question of criminal negligence, which we can define as the result of actions that are neither accidental nor intentional but, rather, the consequences of a form of carelessness or, as the name indicates, negligence.

To help you grasp the concept of criminal negligence in all its subtlety, here’s a review of the parameters that will permit you to characterize it precisely and understand the detrimental effects it may have.

Criminal negligence from a legal point of view

Section 219 of the Criminal Code establishes that a person is guilty of criminal negligence if that person:

(a) in doing anything, or
(b) in omitting to do anything that it is his duty to do,

shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.

This means that the prosecutor must demonstrate that the accused has deviated markedly and significantly from the behavior that a reasonable person would exercise under the same circumstances.

In a legal proceeding, the judge or jury has the delicate task of determining whether such a deviation has occurred. How? By establishing whether that person:

  1. was aware of the danger or risk that his or her behavior posed to the life and safety of others but engaged in that behavior anyway.
  2. failed to carefully consider whether his or her behavior could result in such a danger or risk.

There are numerous examples of criminal negligence in which the initial intentions are undoubtedly good, but the behavior is more than inappropriate. Among these, we can cite the use of alternative medicine resulting in death, an automobile that stops abruptly on the highway causing an accident or fatality, or a company that fails to maintain its vehicles properly, leading to the death of a driver.

Criminal negligence is often conflated with civil negligence; however, the consequences in these cases are quite different. A case of civil negligence can involve, for example, a homeowner who fails to maintain his or her property adequately, resulting in damage to a neighbor’s yard.

The concept of negligent or reckless behavior leading to death or bodily injury is, therefore, the cornerstone of criminal negligence, which is punishable to various degrees, according to the seriousness of the consequences.

Criminal negligence and related penalties

The penalty for criminal negligence will vary depending on whether the negligent actions resulted in death or bodily injury.

If someone is found guilty of criminal negligence resulting in death, the offense could be punishable by life in prison. Furthermore, if the prosecution proves that the accused used a firearm, the person will receive a minimum prison sentence of four years.

If someone is found guilty of criminal negligence resulting in bodily injury, the offense is punishable by imprisonment of up to ten years.

By now, you undoubtedly understand that it’s often difficult to establish criminal negligence. That’s why anyone who appears before a judge to plead his or her case without representation is taking a huge risk. By surrounding yourself with criminal lawyers throughout the legal process, you’ll greatly improve your chances of benefitting from the best possible defense.

Have you been accused of criminal negligence?

Don’t hesitate to turn to the law offices of criminal attorney Martine Thibodeau for assistance. The team will offer you indispensable support, attention and strategy in order to help you get through this ordeal.


Radio-Canada. Qu’est-ce que la négligence criminelle? [What is criminal negligence?] 2018.
JuriGo.ca. La négligence criminelle: quand la négligence devient un crime! [Criminal negligence: when negligence becomes a crime!] 2022.

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