They say the law has a long arm, and there’s a lot of truth in that statement. You commit a misdemeanor as seemingly minor as a DUI case. Your tiny legal brain manages to convince you that the worst you can get is a slap on the wrist and everything will be fine. Be that as it may, driving under the influence of alcohol is a criminal offense that sometimes carries steep penalties. It later turns out that the driver of the vehicle you crashed into died on admission to hospital. What began as a harmless drive from a party now seems insurmountably frightening. Often people have been caught napping only to find themselves being sentenced to lengthy periods of imprisonment. Lawyers are said to be liars, but with what you could be facing, that matters little. The principles of criminal law can be extremely complicated.
An Act With Far Reaching Consequences
Criminal conduct doesn’t only lead to criminal sanctions. It occurs often that one in the same criminal act may constitute both a delict and a crime, thereby also resulting in civil liability in the form of a delict/tort on the part of the perpetrator. So a person who commits the crime of malicious injury to property may also be liable to compensate the complainant for loss eventuated by criminal conduct. Another example would be the crime of driving under the influence where an innocent third party is injured. In such a scenario the accused faces the prospect of paying a kind of punitive damages to compensate the victim for medical and other expenses in addition to either being imprisoned or fined. In this sense, the law is a double edged sword.
Grounds/Reasons For Holding A Perpetrator Liable
Criminal liability doesn’t just arise automatically on the basis that one has acted in contrary to the public interest. In law, there is this thing called culpability. It is a requirement for criminal liability that stays true to the principle that there must, in the eyes of the law, be grounds for blaming X for his/her unlawful conduct. Here the person of the perpetrator -and not the circumstances of the crime- is the focus of study. Does he have an appreciation of the difference between right and wrong? Does she have the ability to act according to such an appreciation and direct her will towards the desired result? Did he act intentionally or was he negligent? These questions are best answered by considering a person’s criminal capacity.
Quite naturally it is envisaged that there are moments when a person’s criminal capacity is diminished, so to speak. For instance, mental illness can affect a person to a point where it is unreasonable for the law to attach consequences to any resulting conduct. Mentally ill persons are presumed to lack the ability to distinguish between right and wrong and to act in accordance with such an appreciation. Other classes of persons who shall not be criminally responsible for their actions include infants under the age of 7 years.
Then, of course, you have instances of DUI reckless driving that leads to the death of innocent third parties. Does intoxication afford one an excuse to a charge of murder by reason of one’s faculties having been diminished by alcohol? Yes, and no. Yes if you can prove that you did not have the intention to kill the third party, in which case you’ll most likely be convicted on the lesser charge of culpable homicide (negligence). However, it get’s complicated when a court considers if harm was foreseeable and whether you should have taken preventive steps to prevent such harm.
Law academics and scholars have argued for decades against the creation of crimes that dispense with the requirement of culpability in the form of intention/negligence. The main contention is with holding a person liable without looking into his intention to commit the crime, hence the term ‘strict’ liability. Statute law can consist of strict liability crimes that the legislature may enact for reasons of national security or in order to deter the commission of particular crimes. In some jurisdictions, it’s a crime to fish in protected areas or to hunt down species of animals that are known to be endangered. There was a time when reckless driving was a strict liability crime, but times have since changed.
Every action has a consequence. Whilst some consequences can be stomached, others are simply a mouthful. If ever you find yourself in trouble with the law don’t waste time, call an attorney right away. Criminal law is a means to protect the public against perpetrators of crime. Without it, society would be ungovernable and we’d be slaves to the unfettered will of our neighbors. So being on the wrong side of the law is something you don’t want as one day you’re a free man, and the next, you’re behind bars facing years of jail time. Think before you act, don’t wait for a lawyer to save your skin.