What is Negligent Homicide?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 April 2020
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Homicide is a broad term that means the killing of a human being by another human, though the exact definition and divisions differ in different jurisdictions. In the United States, homicide may be of two categories: criminal or non-criminal. There are six types of homicide that fit these two categories. A non-criminal homicide may be a justifiable homicide, such as killing in self-defense, or excusable homicide, such as an accident. Criminal homicide may be either murder in the first or second degree, voluntary manslaughter, or involuntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter may be due to recklessness, on the one hand, or something termed criminal negligence or negligent homicide, on the other hand.

By way of contrast, the Finnish Penal Code Chapter 21 distinguishes six different types of homicide. They are: manslaughter, murder, killing, infanticide, negligent homicide, and grossly negligent homicide. Abortion is listed in Chapter 22.

While to act “recklessly” in the United States means to consciously disregard concerns and take a risk that is substantial and unjustified, to act “negligently” only means that one fails to use “reasonable care”; that is, negligence is a lesser offense than recklessness. In neither the case of recklessness or the case of negligence does one find the malice or premeditation that characterizes murder.


Negligence can be active or passive and criminal or not. Passive negligence generally means failure to act or failure to follow a law that is imposed on all. Active negligence, by contrast, involves an act or failure to follow a law or perform a duty that is particular to the person or which she or he agreed to. A person who is negligent according to civil law may not meet the standard of criminal law, because a greater degree of culpability is required. Unlike ordinary negligence, criminal negligence must involve extraordinarily different behavior than a normal person would engage in.

Negligent homicide may involve unintentional killing that results from criminal negligence while performing a lawful act, often involving a motor vehicle, which may be an automobile or truck, a snowmobile, or a boat. It may also include killing that results when a misdemeanor or lesser felony is involved. State laws differ, and — for example — may treat the case of alcohol involvement in a motor vehicle related killing, as in New Hampshire, or not, as in Montana. Negligent homicide also covers cases of death resulting from gross negligence in the practice of medicine or surgery.


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Post 4

@Burcidi-I also recently read a story about a lady that was charged with negligent vehicular homicide. They said that the lady was trying to drive for 37 straight hours after being up for the past eleven. She fell asleep and when she realized that her car was shifting over, she tried to correct it and went over the median and landed on the front end of a truck killing both the driver and passenger.

The police officer said that although the lady had not been drinking her alertness was the same as if she had been drinking. It was a really sad case and the lady faces up to twenty years in jail.

Post 3

@ysmina-- I believe in the U.S., the punishment is imprisonment between one and five years. I think it depends on the state and the specific case. One person might get one year, another four. But it's never more than five years because negligent homicide is a third degree felony. If it was a second degree felony like manslaughter, it would be up to ten years and if it was a first degree felony like murder, up to life-time sentence.

In other countries though it doesn't always work this way. I know that in some countries, negligent homicide doesn't always get imprisonment. Especially if the criminal is a well known person like a political leader or entrepreneur, the law might be a little more lenient. So it might be possible to get away with a monetary fine in some countries.

Post 2

@ysmina-- I read about a woman who was convicted of negligent homicide today in the paper. She was talking on the cell phone while driving and had a car accident in which she was at fault. The driver of the other car died.

If she hadn't been talking on the phone while the accident happened, she probably wouldn't have gotten convicted for negligent homicide. But since it is illegal to talk on the cell phone while driving and she broke the law, it was negligence on her part.

Post 1

Can you give an example of a negligent homicide?

And if someone is convicted of this crime, what is the punishment? I mean, how many years in jail will they get?

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