Featured Articles

Sidebar 2 When did human error become a crime?

Many criminal laws and federal/state regulations make simple human error a crime. If you trace the long history of criminal law in the US, the birth of “criminal” human error (now called public welfare offenses) began during our industrial revolution.7 Before then, both an evil hand and an evil mind (intent to harm) were needed to label an activity as criminal. But since the advent of powerful machines that, through individual behaviors, could cause significant harm, an evil mind is no longer required for an action to be considered a crime. For example, automobile drivers who have been involved in an accident that caused the death of another individual might be prosecuted in most states for vehicular homicide, even if the death resulted from a human error. The reality is that mere human error that randomly occurs in well-meaning people is now considered “criminal” in various circumstances where public safety is an issue. For those unlucky enough to make one of these errors, criminal charges may only be an indictment away.7


7. Outcome Engenuity. The criminal edition. The Just Culture Community News and Views. Marx D, Cassidy KM, eds. January/February 2007.