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criminal negligence

Mental states that determine the degree of guilt or culpability in criminal law are generally classified from highest (most worthy of blame or punishment) to lowest as: (1) intentional; (2) knowing; (3) reckless; and (4) criminal negligence.

A person acts with criminal negligence, or is criminally negligent, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all of the circumstances, as viewed from the accused person’s standpoint at the time of the alleged criminal negligence.

Criminal offenses or crimes often specify the culpable mental state the prosecution is required to prove to convict a defendant of the offense. These culpable mental states are generally defined in the relevant state or federal statutes—usually in the penal or criminal code.

In Texas, the penal code defines various mental states that establish the level of culpability in criminal offenses. These mental states are ranked from most to least blameworthy as follows: (1) intentional, (2) knowing, (3) reckless, and (4) criminal negligence. A person acts with criminal negligence when they fail to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that their conduct may lead to certain circumstances or results. This risk must be so great that not recognizing it would be a significant departure from the care an ordinary person would exercise in the same situation. For a defendant to be convicted of a crime in Texas, the prosecution must prove the defendant had the culpable mental state specified by the offense in the Texas Penal Code or relevant federal statutes. Each mental state reflects a different level of awareness and intention regarding the prohibited conduct or its results, and the required mental state is an essential element of the crime that must be established beyond a reasonable doubt.

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