What to Do When You Unintentionally Break the Law
The vast majority of people make the effort to stay on the right side of the law in their daily lives, but what happens when someone unintentionally commits a crime? A small mistake or moment of carelessness could lead to someone breaking the law without even realizing what they have done until much later. Breaking the law, whether accidentally or intentionally, can lead to serious consequences if the person is found guilty, so it is important to take certain steps to avoid a hefty fine or even jail time after committing a crime.
The Difference Between Accident And Intent
Mens Rea is a legal term that refers to the mental condition that a person needs to be in to establish whether or not they committed a crime intentionally. A person that accidentally walks off with another person’s coat in a public area will most likely have a very similar coat themselves in the same location. The person will also attempt to find the real owner of the coat once he realizes his mistake. By contrast, a person that picks up a coat that he has never seen before, puts it on and then leaves is most likely aware that it does not belong to him.
Common Examples Of Accidental Crimes
There are a number of common scenarios where accidental crimes are known to occur.
A mother pushing her crying baby through a department store may place items that she intends to buy on the handles of the stroller. While consoling the child and attempting to pay for other items, she might then forget about the items on the stroller and leave the store without paying for them. This is clearly an accidental crime, and a woman that is truly innocent will most likely return to the store once she realizes her mistake.
Another example is a man hiking through forest that unknowingly trespasses on private property. The man might even decide to camp on the property and collect wood to build a fire. If the property was not clearly marked as being private and no visible border was in place, then a judge will most likely agree that the man did not intend to commit a crime.
What To Do If You Unintentionally Break The Law
If you discover that you have broken the law without intending to, then it is important to seek legal counsel right away. An experienced, accredited lawyer such as Michelle Suskauer can help you prove that you were unaware you were committing a crime and help you prepare a defense if you are required to appear before a jury. It can sometimes be difficult to prove that a person broke the law by accident, so simply hoping that the police will believe your story could result in you being charged with an offence and ending up with a criminal record. Once you realize that you have broken the law, you may also want to gather evidence that supports your story such as taking photographs of the scene or asking witnesses to provide statements.
Accidental Crimes To Be Aware Of
Although many minor crimes will be excused if the criminal justice system determines them to be accidental, there are a few that end in prosecution regardless of the circumstances. Drunk driving is perhaps the most common example of this. A man might decide to have a glass of wine with dinner and then take the car to visit a friend later on believing that he has only consumed a small amount of alcohol and will not be over the limit. However, the glass of wine may have been larger than standards servings or could have been an especially strong type of fortified wine. A person found operating a vehicle while over the legal alcohol limit will always be prosecuted. Bartenders that unknowingly serve alcohol to minors are also liable to be prosecuted for their actions even if they did not intend to break the law. These types of crimes fall under strict liability law where anyone committing the action can be prosecuted even if they did so unwittingly.
Although finding yourself on the wrong side of the law can be a scary experience, it is important to remember that the criminal justice system considers everyone innocent until proven guilty. Every person will have the opportunity to put forward their side of the story during interviews with law enforcement officers as well as receive guidance and support from a criminal justice lawyer.
Jane Carrington has a 40 year background working in law. Now semi-retired she writes articles, mostly focused upon crime, for news and law based sites.