What Is Criminal Liability?

Criminally liability refers to when a person can be held legally responsible for breaking the law. Criminally liability includes potential or actual responsibility, which means that a person can be charged and sentenced if they actually committed a crime, or if they are suspected of committing a crime. The basic assumption when it comes to criminal liability is that there is both a mental element and physical element to the alleged offence.

Criminal Intent Explained

The prosecutor’s job is to bring charges against the offender on behalf of the citizens and prove the defendant harbored the required level of criminal intent. For example, if a person is accused of stealing, the prosecutor is tasked with showing the court that the defendant intended to wrongfully deprive the owner of the property.

When it comes to civil cases, criminal intent isn’t a requirement. In civil maters, the goal is to usually prove the defendant acted negligently, which resulted in harm to the plaintiff. The reason criminal intent isn’t a requirement in civil cases is because these types of matters involve disputes between individuals, not acts against society. Additionally, the potential penalty the defendant faces in a civil case is limited to monetary damages or enforcement of certain rights, but not jail time.

What Is Vicarious or Implied Liability?

Criminal liability generally depends on whether the accused directly committed the act. However, liability for a crime can extend beyond the people directly involved in a criminal act. An example of this is “felony murder" laws. These laws make individuals involved in a felony that results in a person’s death liable for the death, even if the individual didn’t "pull the trigger" or otherwise directly cause the victim's death. Getaway drivers who are accomplices to murder or botched robberies are commonly charged and prosecuted through implied liability.

What Is Strict Liability?

To secure a conviction for a crime, the state usually must prove liability and that the act actually occurred. If the state is tasked with proving a defendant committed theft, then prosecutors must prove the defendant took the property of another individual and that the defendant took it with the intention to deprive the owner of it. However, when it comes to a strict liability offense, prosecutors just need to prove the defendant engaged in specific conduct.

It is important to note that strict liability is the exception in criminal law, not the rule. The legal rationale for prosecuting strict liability crimes is that certain acts warrant imposing criminal liability, regardless of the defendant’s intent. Strict liability can apply in cases involving traffic offenses to statutory rape.

Can a Person Be Responsible But Not Liable?

Under criminal liability law, there are situations in which an individual who personally and directly engaged in a criminal act shouldn’t be held liable for the crime. For example, a person can be found not guilty of committing a crime because they lack the mental capacity to be legally responsible for their actions. Minors are also exempted from certain criminal liability because they are unable to form the type of intent required to make it fair to hold them accountable for the crime.

Our Criminal Defense Team is Here to Serve You

At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, we are here to provide high quality legal representation, no matter what crime you have been accused of. We understand how stressful it can be when your rights and future are at stake, which is why our esteemed legal professionals will gladly leverage our firm’s extensive resources to vigorously advocate for you at each phase of the legal process. Please stop by our law office today so we can review the charges against you and explain all of your defense options.

To set up a case consultation with one of our criminal defense lawyers, please call (800) 462-7160 or request an appointment online.