Negligent Homicide Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

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Negligent homicide is generally trialed at the state level, as part of their homicide statutes. Usually, it is the lowest form of offense that has the death of another human as a result. Homicide is a very general category, and various situations can describe it. The charge of homicide, and whether it is negligent or not, depends on the intent of the perpetrator. If someone wanted another person to die, plotting towards this and then executing the plan, it is more likely that the perpetrator will be charged with homicide. Negligent homicide, by contrast, happens when there was no premeditated intent for another person to die.

Negligent homicide, in other words, happens when someone causes the death of another through criminal negligence. Criminal negligence happens when someone behaves in a way that he or she should have known is risky. It is a much lower intent, but still a serious crime.

Negligent Homicide Laws

Negligent homicide is covered under the 18 U.S. Code Chapter 51 – Homicide. Individual states have their own statutes in terms of laws covering negligent homicide. Some states don’t recognize the crime at all, focusing solely on manslaughter (voluntary or involuntary) and murder (first and second degree).

Negligent Homicide Crimes & Charges

In order for someone to be convicted of negligent homicide, the prosecution must prove:

  1. That the defendant knew that their behavior included unjustifiable risk and that this caused another person to die. For instance, should someone be accidentally shot after playing with a gun, and a second person does not phone medical help, that person could be charged with negligent homicide, as this is an unjustifiable risk, since everyone is expected to know a shot wound can lead to death.
  2. That an act of omission took place. In some states, causation doesn’t have to be demonstrated, and omission is enough for a charge. Using the example above of the gunshot wound, the state would have to prove that the defendant would have lived if the other did phone for medical help.
  3. That there is causation. Often, causation has to be demonstrated through an affirmative act. For instance, if someone drives over the speed limit in a school zone when children are exiting the school, and hits and kills a child, there is clear cause and effect relationship.

Negligent Homicide Punishment

While negligent homicide is the lowest form of homicide, it remains a very serious offense. Each state has their own statutes in terms of punishment. What they have in common is that they include time in prison, probation, and/or fines. The levels, however, vary greatly. For instance, Texas has a prison sentence of between 180 days to two years, with no possibility of parole. In Alaska, there is no minimum sentence, but the maximum is 10 years. On average, the prison term imposed for negligent homicide is between six months and 10 years. However, because criminal negligence has to be demonstrated for negligent homicide, it is common for someone to be also convicted for that negligence, and to face a civil court trial.

Negligent Homicide Sentencing Guidelines

Usually, sentencing guidelines work on a presume minimum and maximum sentence. However, there are many circumstances to be taken into consideration, and these can lead to a judge applying sentences outside of the regular range. Usually, a class of felony will be determined through mitigating and aggravating factors. Common aggravating factors include:

  • Speeding or other forms of reckless driving
  • Being under the influence of substances

Common mitigating factors include:

  • Adverse weather conditions (particularly for homicides caused through vehicular accidents)
  • Passion

The aggravating and mitigating factors will not only determine the prison sentence that will be imposed, but also whether or not there will be a possibility of parole, how long someone has to be on probation, whether any community service has to be rendered, and whether any fines have to be paid.

Negligent Homicide Statute of Limitations

Each state has different statutes of limitations on negligent homicide. Again, the aggravating and mitigating factors will determine this. Usually, states follow the ‘model penal code’, which means that there is no statute of limitations on murder charges, and six years on serious felony charges. Whether negligent homicide is classed as murder or a serious felony will depend on the state and the circumstances.

Negligent Homicide Cases

  • In 2014, a man was involved in a semi-crash, which resulted in the death of a nine year old boy in Lindenhurst, IL. Lee Hendricksen, 70, has been charged with felony homicide through negligent driving, as well as two reckless driving felonies. Hendricksen failed to stop at a sign, leading to the crash in which the boy was killed. (
  • 50 year old Jorge Ortiz has been charged with the negligent homicide of an 87 year old man in New Britain. Ortiz claimed not to have seen the man, stopping only when he saw damage to his mirror. As he drove on a suspended license, the crime was increased to negligent homicide. (New Britain Herald)
  • 32 year old Alexander Burke has been charged with negligent homicide after driving a car under the influence and hitting and killing a woman while in charge of the vehicle. He ran a red light and crashed into another vehicle carrying four passengers, all of whom sustained injuries, resulting in one death. He has also been charged with a number of other misdemeanors. (Concord Monitor)
  • 5 year old Ashley Xiong was riding her bike when she was hit by a car driven by Her Yang Thao. Thao has been found not guilty of criminally negligent homicide. It was proven that the driver was not distracted, and that Xiong was in a blind spot of the vehicle, meaning that Thao could not have avoided the accident. (2 KTUU)
  • 41 year old Jackie Harris was driving a vehicle while under the influence of methamphetamine. She caused in accident in which several people were injured, and one woman lost her life. Harris has been charged with negligent homicide. (Arkansas Online)

Negligent Homicide Quick Links & References

18 U.S. Code Chapter 51 – Homicide
Negligent Homicide Law & Legal Definition

Negligent Homicide Laws by State

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming