Can I Commit A Crime Accidentally? | Quinnan Law (2024)

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.

Can I Commit A Crime Accidentally? | Quinnan Law (2024)


Can I Commit A Crime Accidentally? | Quinnan Law? ›

Accident As A Legal Defense

Is it possible to accidentally commit a crime? ›

There are cases where you can still be punished for an accidental crime. A very popular case is when bartenders accidentally serve alcohol to underage people. Even if they checked ID's every other time but this one, and they end up serving a minor, this is a crime. In fact, it's possible to go to jail for such a crime.

Is mistake of law a defense? ›

Mistake of fact and mistake of law are both valid legal defenses a defendant might use to challenge certain criminal charges.

Is it illegal to say you're going to commit a crime? ›

Conspiracy laws can be enforced when individuals take steps to execute crime. It is not illegal to think about committing illegal acts — such as in the case of civil disobedience — as any law that would criminalize the mere thought or suggestion of committing an illegal act would be a free speech violation.

Can someone accuse you of a crime without evidence? ›

The short answer is no. In all criminal courts in America, State and Federal, the Constitution requires that the Government prove a criminal charge brought against a person beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a very high burden, often higher than in other countries.

What is the easiest felony to get? ›

#1: Drug Crimes.

What's the worst possible crime to commit? ›

The most severely punished form is murder, defined as homicide committed with “malice aforethought.” This is a term with a very long history. Boiled down to its essentials, it means that the defendant had the intent to kill.

What is an example of a mistake of law? ›

One commonly used example to show a mistake of law is a defendant accused of robbing another person. Assume that the defendant was actually attempting to retrieve the money that the supposed victim of the robbery owed the defendant.

Is mistake of fact a valid defense? ›

In criminal law, a mistake of fact can usually operate as a defense so long as it is reasonable. With crimes that require specific intent, even an unreasonable mistake of fact might work as a defense.

What is an example of a mistake of law in criminal law? ›

An example is a defendant saying that he did not conspire to commit a crime because he/she believed a law provided the legal right to do the conspired act. This misunderstanding, though, has to be made in good faith for the defense to work.

When police trick you into committing a crime? ›

Entrapment is a practice in which a law enforcement agent or an agent of the state induces a person to commit a "crime" that the person would have otherwise been unlikely or unwilling to commit.

Can you commit a crime without intent? ›

Finally, some criminal offenses do not require intent at all. These are strict liability crimes.

Is it illegal to talk about something illegal? ›

However, no matter what the crime discussed, two or more people talking about committing a criminal act together, no matter what the crime, like joking to buy and selling illegal guns, is a crime, called conspiracy. You can be charged just for pretend plotting.

Can you sue someone for falsely accusing you of something? ›

If the false accusations resulted in you being charged with a crime or sued without probable cause and the case was decided in your favor, you may be able to sue for malicious prosecution. If the false accusations damage your reputation, you may be able to sue for defamation.

Can you go to jail for falsely accusing someone of a crime? ›

The bottom line is falsely accusing someone of a crime has real legal consequences. It destroys trust in the justice system and diverts limited resources away from actual victims. While penalties vary between states, you can face fines, jail time, civil lawsuits, and lasting damage to your reputation.

Can you go to jail if you falsely accuse someone? ›

It is illegal to falsely accuse someone of a crime they didn't commit, and you can be arrested and convicted of it. If you've been charged with making false accusations, you may want to speak with a lawyer right away.

Do people commit felonies without knowing? ›

If you take a deep dive, there are, in fact, so many vague and random felonies in our law books; it does, in fact, become somewhat simple for an average person to break these laws unwittingly.

What happens if you falsely admit to a crime? ›

However, if a person is caught making a false confession, then they may face the following legal consequences depending on the circ*mstances of the case: The individual may be charged and found guilty of committing perjury; The individual may be charged and found guilty of lying to a police officer; and/or.

What is it called when you admit to a crime you didn't do? ›

False confessions occur more than most people think and result from a variety of factors, including the use of coercive and deceptive tactics during an interrogation.


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