How is strict liability associated to criminal law?

A common question for many facing legal proceedings or matters is to seek clarity on how the concept of strict liability applies to criminal law.

Strict liability concerns a crucial aspect of criminal cases – the intent of the accused. In simplest terms, strict liability crimes relate to matters which will assign criminal liability regardless of the mental state of the accused or suspect. They are often associated with matters in which society essentially wants to send a clear cut message that even mistakes won’t be tolerated and harsh punishment will be dealt even if one is unaware at the time that they are committing a crime.

The reasoning of these provisions is that instituting harsh strict liability parameters will ensure higher degrees of vigilance and carefulness; a perfect example involves selling alcohol to underage citizens. Strict liability crimes have helped ensure that most stores are extremely vigilant about preventing the sale of alcohol to anyone under 21 by carefully scrutinizing IDs.  

Other examples of matters in which strict liability often applies include having sex with minors or speeding (i.e. you don’t need to know that you were breaking the speed limit in order to be punished). Many of these laws grew out of a movement in the 19th century to bolster the safety of the time’s deplorable labor conditions in the workplace; by removing the burden of proof to demonstrate that companies were purposely negligent in fostering unsafe work environments, more companies were incentivized to improve conditions for employees.

Strict liability is more often applied to civil than criminal manners, but there are exceptions. It is also often leveraged in cases involving class action lawsuits filed against manufacturers, in which companies only need to be shown to be responsible for manufacturing a defective product rather than needing to be shown as negligent or purposely malicious.   

If you are seeking greater clarity on how strict liability can play a factor in an upcoming legal matter, contact the experienced team at Tassone, Dreicer & Hill. Our team has represented clients on both the federal and state court level throughout Northeast Florida for more than half a century and offer a wealth of insights that can demystify the often overwhelming world of the law. We also provide a wealth of experience in criminal defense covering multiple areas of crime, from assault and battery to sex crimes and white collar matters.