When we hear strict liability, we often think of personal injury cases. However, strict liability applies to criminal offenses too. Strict liability means you are liable for committing an act regardless of your intent or mental state.
For most criminal offenses in Pennsylvania, a person is not guilty of an offense unless they acted knowingly, recklessly, intentionally, or negligently with respect to the elements of the crime. However, Title 18 Ch. 3 §305 of the Pennsylvania Statutes limits the scope of culpability requirements for some crimes.
According to the statute, strict liability is imposed for:
- Summary offenses, unless a requirement is listed in a specific statute or the court determines that its application is consistent with effective enforcement of the law; OR,
- Any offenses defined by statutes where the legislative purpose is to impose “absolute liability” for a crime or any element of the crime.
In other words, the state recognizes that some criminal acts do not require the defendant to have the intent to commit the crime to be found guilty. Therefore, the person can be found guilty, and the court can impose a criminal sentence even though the person might not have intended to commit the crime.
Examples of Strict Liability Crimes in Pennsylvania
It is illegal to have sexual relations with a minor. Even if you believe the person is of the age of legal consent, you can be found guilty of statutory rape. It does not matter that you did not intend to have sex with a minor.
Breaking a traffic law is typically a strict liability offense. The police officer does not need to prove that you intended to speed for you to be guilty of the offense. The officer only needs to prove that you exceeded the posted speed limit when you were pulled over.
Likewise, driving under the influence is typically a strict liability crime. The state does not need to prove you consumed alcohol with the intent of driving a vehicle while impaired. The state only needs to prove that you were driving while under the influence or with a BAC (blood alcohol content) above the legal limit.
Selling Alcohol to a Minor
A minor might lie to you about their age to obtain alcohol. Even so, you could be guilty of a crime if you sell alcohol to a minor. You might believe the person is over 21 years old, but that does not matter.
Potential Defenses to Strict Liability Crimes
It is crucial to present a solid defense to strict liability crimes. The prosecution does not need to prove that you intended to harm someone or commit the crime to send you to jail. Therefore, strict liability cases can be more difficult to defend than other crimes.
Defenses that could apply to strict liability crimes include, but are not limited to:
Lack of Probable Cause
Even though you can be guilty of a strict liability crime without the state proving intent, it does not mean you lose your other legal rights. If the police officer did not have probable cause for an arrest, your criminal case could be dismissed, or evidence could be ruled inadmissible in court.
You Did Not Commit the Crime
Your attorney might present evidence that you have an alibi that proves you could not have committed the alleged crime. In other words, you are innocent of the crime.
Another defense that might be applicable is mistaken identity. Your attorney might present evidence that a witness or the police officer mistakenly identified you as the person who committed the crime.
Other Criminal Defenses
There could be other defenses depending on the facts and circumstances of your case. An experienced criminal defense attorney investigates your arrest to gather evidence and determine other defenses that could apply to your case.
What Should You Do if You Are Arrested for a Strict Liability Crime in West Chester?
If the police arrest you for a crime, do not resist arrest. That could result in additional criminal charges and create a dangerous situation.
Instead, fight the urge to tell the police why you are not guilty. In other words, do not try to explain why you thought one thing or another.
The more you talk to the police without a criminal defense lawyer, the more evidence you give the police to use against you in court. Therefore, it is best to remain silent except to ask for an attorney.
Contact Us for a Free Consultation With Our West Chester Criminal Defense Lawyer
Strict liability crimes can result in convictions that lead to substantial jail time and fines. Contact or call our law firm to schedule a free consultation with our West Chester criminal defense attorney to discuss potential defense at (610) 430-3535. At DiCindio Law, LLC we want to help you fight criminal charges to keep you out of jail.