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What Happens If You Accidentally Commit a Crime in Arizona

July 14, 2023

While many crimes are committed with intention, it is quite possible to accidentally commit a crime. In these situations, it is essential to understand how Arizona law works to best protect yourself from unwarranted repercussions. As a criminal defense attorney with over 20 years of experience, Janet Altschuler is committed to helping local residents understand their rights when it comes to accidental crimes. 

What is an accidental crime?

An accidental crime is a crime that has been committed unintentionally by the perpetrator. In many cases, this means that the perpetrator didn’t even know the crime was taking place. A common example of this situation is accidental stealing. If a shopper places an item in their bag that they mean to pay for but forget that it is there and walk out of the store without paying, this is considered an accidental crime. While the shop owner would have the right to press charges, the lack of criminal intent would make it more difficult to do so. 

In other cases, an accidental crime can be committed if the perpetrator doesn’t know the action that they’re performing is illegal. For example, if you enter a private property that is not roped off and doesn’t have any ‘No Trespassing’ signs, you may have no idea that you’re trespassing in the first place. It all comes down to ‘mens rea,’ which is a Latin phrase that translates to ‘guilty mind.’ Mens rea refers to the intent of the perpetrator to commit a crime and is the basis of most criminal court cases. Without criminal intent, it can be difficult to prosecute a perpetrator—but not impossible. 

Can I be prosecuted for an accidental crime?

Yes, it is possible to be prosecuted for a crime you committed by accident. It depends largely on the nature of the crime. Some crimes are considered ‘non-punishable,’ while others can still carry legal consequences. The previous example of accidental stealing could be considered non-punishable, while a crime such as accidentally serving a minor at a bar is not. 

Crimes like serving alcohol to minors fall under the umbrella of ‘Strict Liability Laws.’ If you commit this type of crime, you can still be subject to legal consequences, even if you committed the crime by accident. Serving alcohol to a minor, without knowing that they are a minor, is one of the most common punishable accidental crimes. 

Types of Accidental Crimes

There are several types of accidental crimes, ranging from non-punishable to punishable. While there is technically no legal classification for accidental crimes, these offenses are often found to be unintentional. However, they can still carry legal consequences, depending on the nature of the crime. Some crimes that could be committed accidentally include: 

  • Manslaughter: This typically refers to the unintentional killing of another person. It differs from murder in that there is no intent to kill. An example would be a car accident where a driver unintentionally causes the death of another individual due to recklessness or negligence. This is an example of a crime that would still be punishable by law, as it led to the death or harm of another person. 
  • Negligence: Negligence has many forms, and while it can be considered a crime in and of itself, it can lead to other crimes as well. For example, a business that does not clean up a spill doesn’t intend for a customer to slip and fall, but they could still be liable if the customer is severely injured. 
  • Stealing: Unintentional stealing is common, especially in shops with busy check-out counters or self-checkout. Forgetting that you have a certain item in your pocket or in your basket and walking out of the store, for example, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be prosecuted. While it is still technically a crime, it is unlikely that you will be charged unless criminal intent is established. 
  • Serving Minors: If a bartender serves a minor alcohol, they will be charged with committing a crime—even if they didn’t know the customer was a minor. This is technically an accident, but the bartender is legally obligated to check IDs before serving customers. 

Build Your Case with Janet Altschuler Today

Even if you have committed a crime by accident, it is still possible for a person or entity to take legal action against you. If you’ve accidentally committed a crime in Arizona and you’re facing legal charges, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney who will fight for your rights. Janet Altschuler has over 20 years of experience defending Arizona residents from criminal charges, and she will fight to help protect your best interests. Contact her today to get started on building your case.

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