Can I Commit A Crime Accidentally?

Can I Commit A Crime Accidentally?

by Oct 15, 2020

Committing a crime by accident may sound a bit nonsensical at first, but believe it or not, it actually happens more often than people think.

Imagine, for example, you go grocery shopping and take your two year old son or daughter with you. After you get home with your groceries, you discover that your child put a candy bar in their pocket while you were checking out and you didn’t notice.

Technically, that would be shoplifting. Since your child is a minor, that means you’re responsible and could be looking at a misdemeanor charge of theft if your child was caught on security cameras and the store wanted to press charges.

Obviously, pressing charges for a stolen candy bar sounds a little ridiculous. What’s more, because you weren’t aware of the “crime” at the time it happened, you’d be protected by California law.
 

Accident As A Legal Defense

For minor crimes involving a legitimate accident or misfortune, generally speaking, California criminal law excuses your conduct. The criteria used to evaluate whether or not your conduct was the result of an accident or misfortune are:

  1. That you had no criminal intent to do harm
  2. That your were not acting negligently
  3. That you were engaged in lawful conduct at the time of the accident

This means, for example, that if you accidentally injured someone while robbing a bank, you would be charged for robbing the bank and assault and/or battery because you were engaged in a crime when the accident occurred.

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What About Felonies?

While it’s rare for a serious crime to be caused purely by accident, it does happen on occasion. A recent example comes from one of the wildfires in Southern California. A couple from Yucaipa held a gender-reveal party that used fireworks and smoke bombs that were believed to be the cause of the El Dorado Fire.

In the course of fighting that fire, a firefighter was killed.

Ultimately, it is up to local authorities to determine if they want to press charges in cases like this. From a prosecutor’s perspective, it could be argued that by setting off fireworks during peak wildfire conditions, the couple throwing the party was being negligent and bears at least some responsibility for the wildfire, and possibly the firefighter’s death.
 

What Should I Do If I Accidentally Commit A Crime?

If you accidentally commit a crime, how you handle will depend on the severity of the crime itself. If your child steals a candy bar from a store and you don’t realize it until later, go back to the store, explain what happened, and offer to pay for the candy.

If there is an accident that results in severe property damage or injuries, you need to report the accident immediately and then contact an attorney.

To learn more, or to schedule a free consultation, please contact our office today.

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