When Is Criminal Negligence a Crime?

The legal principle of negligence is a different concept in civil law and criminal law. In a civil negligence claim, a negligent person is legally responsible for paying financial compensation to victims injured by the negligent conduct. In a criminal law, negligence can result in criminal charge that leads to penalties such as fines and prison time. Most people generally understand civil negligence — but what is criminal negligence and when does it constitute a crime?

Criminal Negligence in Nevada Statutes

Nevada statutes do not define negligence for civil law purposes. Prior court decisions establish the standards used to determine negligence in a civil action. In contrast, Nevada criminal statutes do define negligence for criminal law purposes, both generally and for specific offenses. Negligence also is a term that applies to some offenses.

In the general provisions of the state’s criminal statutes, NRS 193.018 defines the terms neglect, negligence, negligent, and negligently ad meaning “a want of such attention to the nature or probable consequences of an act or omission as an ordinarily prudent person usually exercises in his or her own business.” That definition applies everywhere those terms appear in Nevada criminal statutes, unless a specific section defines a term otherwise.

NRS 193.190 also addresses criminal negligence in stating that: “In every crime or public offense there must exist a union, or joint operation of act and intention, or criminal negligence.” That provision establishes the requirement of intent, as well as conduct, for all criminal offenses. The law makes it clear that criminal negligence may be sufficient to establish the necessary intent for a crime.

Reckless Endangerment in Nevada

Nevada does not have a specific crime called criminal negligence. However, the state does have an offense commonly called reckless endangerment, found in NRS 202.595, which encompasses a wide range of criminally negligent conduct. The law is part of the Chapter in the criminal code that addresses Crimes Against Public Health and Safety.

The reckless endangerment law is formally titled “performance of act or neglect of duty in willful or wanton disregard of safety of persons or property.” The provision states that “a person who performs any act or neglects any duty imposed by law in willful or wanton disregard of the safety of persons or property” commits a category C felony if substantial bodily harm or death results. If the conduct does not cause substantial bodily harm or death, reckless endangerment is a gross misdemeanor. 

Reckless endangerment is a very broad crime that can be charged by police in a wide range of situations. Law enforcement officers often use this criminal offense to control reckless conduct in gatherings with a great number of people, as well as for single incidents when a person’s intentional or negligent conduct endangers another person. Especially since reckless endangerment involves a subjective judgment by police, defending against the charge requires representation by an experienced criminal defense attorney. 

Other Nevada Crimes Involving Criminal Negligence

In addition to reckless endangerment, numerous other specific offenses can result from criminal negligence or neglect. In these cases, the applicable statutory section defines the conducts that constitutes the offense. Following are examples of crimes that may involve criminal negligence or neglect. This list does not include all Nevada offenses that fall into that category.

Involuntary manslaughter, NRS 200.070, is a category D felony that involves the unintentional killing of another person, either during commission of an unlawful act or a negligent act. Similarly, vehicular homicide, NRS 484B.657, includes causing the death of another person through conduct that constitutes simple negligence. Vehicular homicide is often treated as a misdemeanor, unless the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol or is guilty of reckless driving.

Child endangerment under NRS 200.508 often involves criminally negligent conduct that puts a child at risk. Abuse, neglect, and endangerment of a child is an extremely serious and complicated offense in Nevada. Defending against a child endangerment charge requires a skillful criminal defense attorney.

Professional caretakers in medical facilities can be charged with criminal neglect under NRS 200.495. Under this law, a caretaker commits criminal neglect of a patient if the caretaker fails to provide care, service, or supervision reasonable and necessary for the patient’s health and safety. The conduct must meet one of these four criteria stated in the law:

  • Aggravated, reckless, or gross conduct
  • Conduct contrary to a proper regard for life or indifferent to the consequences
  • Negligent conduct with reasonably foreseeable consequences 
  • Aggravated reckless or grossly negligent conduct posing a danger to life 

Penalties under the medical facility criminal neglect law vary, depending on the circumstances.

The preceding offenses are only examples of how criminally negligent conduct can lead to criminal charges under Nevada law. Any offense involving criminal neglect or criminally negligent conduct involves complex questions of fact and law. If you face criminal charges in Nevada where the allegations include negligent conduct, you should not attempt to defend against the charges on your own. Representation by an experienced criminal defense lawyer is absolutely essential. 

Schedule a Free Consultation With a Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorney

Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Joseph Gersten represents residents and visitors from out of state on all types of federal and state criminal charges, including those involving criminal neglect or criminal negligence. Regardless of what criminal charges you face, we welcome you contact us to schedule a free consultation and case evaluation.