Criminal Law

Criminal Law Terms – What Is Strict Liability?

June 19, 2017

Whether you study criminal law or have become involved in a situation where knowledge of the law is critical, it is helpful to know the terms used during a case. The more you know, the better you will gain an understanding of the situation and how it affects you or your loved ones. Strict liability is a term you may hear in connection to a criminal case. What does it mean?

Strict Liability: a Definition

Where strict liability is concerned, prosecutors do not always seek to prove a person’s guilty mind (also known as mens rea) to connect him or her to the offense. In other words, the defendant may not have set out to commit a crime, but actions involved that led to the occurrence of wrongdoing could lead to a conviction of the person in question. A person may be ignorant of the law, yet may still face conviction.

Examples of Strict Liability

Such laws were created centuries ago as a means of holding factory owners accountable for a variety of safety hazards and ensuing accidents. These days, strict liability is used more often in minor offenses where a defendant is not necessary a criminal, but not entirely blameless.

    • Parking Violations – A driver parks his/her car in the wrong place. Regardless of the reason – emergency or otherwise – strict liability allows for the issuance of a citation.
    • Violations Involving Minors – A person buys an alcoholic beverage for a minor, or an 18-year-old has intimate relations with a younger, albeit consenting, boyfriend or girlfriend. Strict liability may work in these cases and lead to a conviction.

    • Manslaughter – A person unknowingly or accidentally causes another person’s death. While the defendant did not intend for this to happen (i.e. not intent to commit first-degree murder), he/she is not wholly blameless.


  • Violations involving dubious situations – In some actual cases, people who have offered services (selling alcohol, distributing prescriptions) may be found liable of wrongdoing.

Strict liability is designed to hold people liable of wrongdoing, even though these people are not generally viewed as criminals. The punishments meted out for such offenses may not be severe, but if convicted a person could end up paying fines, doing community service, or serving jail time. It basically depends on the offense. If you find yourself or a loved one in a situation where strict liability applies to something that involves you, you will need a criminal lawyer who can help.


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