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Negligent Homicide (Legal Definition: All You Need To Know)

What is Negligent Homicide?

How do you legally define it?

What are the essential elements you should know!

Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!

Let’s dig into our criminal law knowledge!

Are you ready?

Let’s get started!

What Is Negligent Homicide 

Negligent homicide is a legal term referring to instances when a person kills another due to acts of gross negligence.

In other words, the person killing the other did not have an intention to kill the other (malicious intent) but the death occurred as a result of the acts of gross negligence or recklessness. 

The negligence homicide accusation is generally a lesser included offense to first-degree murder or second-degree murder.

First-degree murder is the most severe criminal charge because a person killed another with a premeditated act.

Second-degree murder is an intentional act with malice aforethought but not premeditated or planned.

As you can see, first and second-degree murders require criminal intent (deliberate, purposeful, knowingly).

Negligent homicide falls into the category of crimes where a person was killed without malice, plan, or knowingly.

The “intention” is substituted by the person’s “negligence”, “gross negligence”, “recklessness” or similar act or omission that caused the death of another.


How do you define negligent homicide?

The definition of negligent homicide can be presented as follows:

It is a criminal charge or accusation brought by the state against a person causing the death of another through criminally negligent acts or omissions. 

Types of Charges

When a person dies or is killed, depending on the defendant’s level of intent, different types of charges can be brought against the person by the prosecutor.

Let’s look at the different types of charges, including the negligent homicide accusation.


Murder is the most severe type of accusation.

It involves the accused killing a person and had formulated the intention of killing another person.


Manslaughter is a criminal charge given to a person where the severity is below that of murder.

Manslaughter crimes are divided into two categories:

  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Involuntary manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter is a crime where the accused had a purpose or knowingly killed another person.

The level of “intent” in killing another is higher than involuntary manslaughter.

Involuntary manslaughter is when the person killed another without having an intention to kill the person but the death occurred due to the accused’s reckless behavior or negligence.

Negligent homicide 

Negligence homicide is when a person kills another person without having the intention of killing the other.

The death is unintentional and not planned in any way.

Typically, negligence homicide charges are brought against individuals after an accident resulted in the death of others.

For example, you can have prosecutors charge a person with homicidal negligence when:

  • They were speeding 
  • They fired a weapon in a crowd
  • Following hunting accidents
  • When a fight leads to death 
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol 
  • Excessive speeding 

Vehicular Homicide 

Involuntary manslaughter or criminal negligence homicide charges are commonly brought forth against individuals negligent or reckless with a motor vehicle (also called vehicular homicide).

There are various degrees of vehicular homicide laws depending on the jurisdiction where the death occurred.

For example, in Ohio, the law breaks down vehicular homicide into three categories:

  • Vehicular manslaughter
  • Vehicular homicide
  • Aggravated vehicular homicide 

Each of these charges will have different levels of severity and possible punishment (or penalties if convicted).


What are the elements needed by the prosecutor to prove a negligent homicide case?

To successfully prosecute criminally negligent homicide cases, prosecutors must prove: 

  • The defendant actually killed the victim (the act)
  • The defendant was aware of the risk associated with his or her conduct 
  • The defendant’s conduct was so negligent or reckless that it qualifies as criminal negligence 
  • There is a link between the victim’s death and the defendant’s conduct 

In essence, the element of “intent” is substituted by criminal negligence, gross negligence, carelessness, or recklessness.

The prosecutor must prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt.

Defense Arguments

What are the legal defenses against a negligent homicide charge?

Fundamentally, the defendant benefits from the presumption of innocence.

In other words, the prosecutor must prove all the elements of the offense or charge beyond a reasonable doubt.

If the defendant can raise a doubt in the judge or jury’s mind, he or she can successfully get acquitted. 

Here are some possible lines of defense:

  • The defendant’s actions did not deviate from that of an ordinary person exercising a reasonable standard of care
  • The accused was acting in self-defense
  • The accused could not know or was not mentally able to understand the risks associated with the conduct 
  • The victim was responsible for the cause of death without negligent acts of the accused 
  • The victim’s death was entirely an accident 


Some states will classify negligent homicide as a misdemeanor (except for DUI cases) while others consider it a felony.

Depending on how the charge is classified, the sentence for negligence homicide may vary.

For example, in Arizona, criminally negligent homicide is a Class 4 felony.

In essence, a felony charge is more severe than a misdemeanor charge.

Being found guilty of a felony charge can result in longer jail time, more expensive fines, more extended community service, or other sentences.

You must look at the state laws to see what are the sentences provided by law if a person is convicted of a negligent homicide crime.

In Arizona, the minimum sentence is 1 year up to 3.75 years for non-dangerous negligent homicide (first offense).

Repeat offenders may get more severe jail time going from 2.25 years up to a maximum of 7.5 years.

If weapons were used, the sentence for a dangerous negligent homicide would be a minimum jail time will be of 4 years and can go up to 8 years.

If the offender is sentenced as a misdemeanor, the court may impose probations with or without jail time.


What are some examples of negligent homicide?

Typically, negligent homicide is when death is caused by a person using a car, boat, vehicle, or another motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner.

An example of a possible negligent homicide accusation is in the case of an airplane crash caused by an employee leaving duct tape over the static ports of the fuselage after cleaning.

The employee did not have the intention of killing others in a plane crash.

However, leaving duct tape on the static ports on the bottom side of the fuselage was so criminally negligent that the prosecutor may accuse the employee of negligent homicide.

Here are some other negligent homicide examples:

  • Shooting a firearm in a crowd killing someone 
  • Leaving a child in the car on a hot day killing the child
  • Excessively speeding and killing a pedestrian 
  • Waiting too long before calling 911 
  • Babysitter that is careless of the health and safety of a child 
  • An employer providing an unsafe work environment 

Negligent Homicide vs Involuntary Manslaughter 

What is the difference between negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter?

“Negligent” homicide in criminal law is a charge against a person who caused the death of another through gross negligence and without malice.

In some cases, the prosecutor may charge the defendant with “involuntary manslaughter” which is a lesser-included offense of “manslaughter”.

Involuntary manslaughter happens when the level of the “intent” goes from a purposeful intent to that of “recklessness” or “negligence”. 

To be reckless is to ignore the consequences of one’s act.

To be negligent is to fail to recognize the risks involved in one’s behavior.

You can argue that negligent homicide is like a type of involuntary manslaughter as the death of another person is caused by recklessness or negligence (not intentional).

The terms negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter are fundamentally the same but the terms will be used in accordance with state laws.

Typically, in the United States, state laws are statutes that refer to negligent homicide as involuntary manslaughter. 

Negligent Homicide Takeaways 

So, what is criminally negligent homicide? 

What does negligent homicide mean?

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

Negligent Homicide Meaning

  • The definition of negligent homicide is an act or omission considered to be criminally negligent (where the accused did not intend to kill the other) causing the death of another
  • Negligent homicide sentences can range from probation without jail time all the way up to a maximum sentence provided for felony charges (potentially 1 to 15 years depending on the applicable law)
  • Negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter are essentially the same things, however, these terms will be used consistent with the way the local laws define the crime
  • An accused can defendant against a reckless homicide charge by demonstrating that his or her act or omission did not deviate from the reasonable standards of care 
  • Examples are leaving a child in a car on a hot day causing death, employer recklessly creating a dangerous or hazardous environment for employees causing death, violating traffic laws causing death
Actus reus
Beyond a reasonable doubt 
Criminal defense lawyer
Homicide attorney 
Mens rea 
Negligence per se 
Negligence rule 
Negligent death 
Criminal homicide
Culpable homicide 
Depraved indifference 
Depraved-heart murder 
Involuntary Manslaughter 
Jury trial 
Plea bargaining 
Wrongful death

Editorial Staffhttps://lawyer.zone
Hello Nation! I'm a lawyer and passionate about law. I've practiced law in a boutique law firm, worked in a multi-national organization and as in-house counsel. I've been around the block! On this blog, I provide you with golden nuggets of information about lawyers, attorneys, the law and legal theories. Enjoy!


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