State v. Hazelwood
946 P.2d 875 (1997)

  • Hazelwood was the captain of an oil tanker that crashed. He was prosecuted under an Alaska law that made it an offense to “discharge, cause to be discharged, or permit the discharge of petroleum.”
  • Hazelwood agreed that he was negligent (he was drunk when the boat crashed), but he argued that he was not criminally negligent.
    • Criminal negligence, he argued, “is something more than the slight degree of negligence necessary to support a civil action for damages.
  • The Trial Court convicted Hazelwood and gave him a suspended sentence. He appealed.
    • The Trial Judge instructed the jury to find that a person acts negligently “when the person fails to perceive an unjustifiable risk that the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.”
  • The Appellate Court reversed.
    • The Appellate Court remanded with new jury instructions about criminal negligence.
  • The Alaska Supreme Court reinstated the conviction.
    • The Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the Trial Judge’s definition for negligence.
  • In general, Criminal negligence is a “gross deviation” from the standards of normal conduct and includes a substantial and unjustifiable risk.
    • For example, one might be negligent for failing to put up a fence to keep children away from your pool. This will not lead to criminal charges. Criminal negligence might include keeping a vicious dog tied to a tree with a thin piece of twine.