The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide only general information on legal issues within the province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation. The purpose is to make you aware of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.
This topic will deal with the criminal offence, criminal negligence.
A person is guilty of acting in a criminally negligent manner when, in doing or failing to do something that is required of them by law, shows reckless behaviour/disregard for the lives and safety of other users of a roadway or public place. Most people found guilty of criminal negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle – whether they cause bodily harm or death – receive a jail sentence. If you are criminally negligent when you operate a vehicle and cause bodily harm to an individual, the length of time of confinement/imprisonment will depend on the degree of severity of injury to the victim. Sentences of 18 months are not uncommon. Generally speaking, jail sentences for criminal negligence causing death start at 3 years imprisonment and go up to a potential of life imprisonment.
If you are charged with this offence, the Crown Prosecutor must prove certain facts beyond a reasonable doubt. In determining whether you operated your vehicle in a criminally negligent manner, the Court will consider whether your actions meet the standard requirements that a reasonable or sound individual should take. Examples of criminally negligent behaviour include causing death or serious injury as a result of street racing or due to excessive speed and impaired driving. If it is successfully demonstrated or proved that your actions were a marked departure from the standards of the norm/rules of driving, the Crown will then have to prove that your reckless behaviour did in fact caused bodily harm or death to victim. It is not necessary to have a collision between your car and the victim in order to be convicted for criminal negligence. For example, if you were engaging in a car race with another car and that car collides with the victim, killing them in the process, you may still be convicted of criminal negligence causing death. The Court will not consider whether you intended to cause the consequences of your negligence.
If you are convicted of this offence, you will also receive a licence suspension. Driver license suspensions are governed by the Motor Vehicle Administration Act of Alberta. Once your license is suspended you may not operate a motor vehicle until your license is reinstated. This remains true even if the period of the suspension has lapsed. In order to reinstate your license you must attend an Alberta Private Registry Service Centre and pay a required fee. Additional conditions may have been imposed for your licence to be reinstated. For example, some conditions may include drug counselling, driver training or physical examinations must be completed before your license can be reinstated. Driving while your license is suspended, or failing to reinstate your license before you resume driving, is an offence that can be punishable upon indictment to a maximum term of imprisonment of 2 years.
Generally, a person is not charged with this offence unless a serious accident occurred and victims suffered serious bodily harm or death. Criminally negligent driving requires a very serious marked departure from the driving behaviour of a reasonable driver, such that laying a charge of dangerous driving causing bodily harm or death would not suffice.