Homicide Law, Penalties & Common Defenses in Texas

Homicide is a broad term used to describe several types of scenarios where one individual causes the death of another. Capital murder, murder, manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide are each charged, tried, and punished in varying ways and to varying degrees depending on the facts of the case. The critical element that determines the type of criminal charges a person faces comes down to the circumstances of the event that led to the victim’s death and the intent of the defendant at the time of the incident.

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Texas Law describes several scenarios where an individual has committed an act of murder:

1. If a person intentionally or knowingly causes the death of another person
2. If a person intends to cause serious bodily injury and commits an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of another person
3. If a person, while attempting to commit felony, acts in a way clearly dangerous to human life that results in the death of another person

Whether a person can be convicted of murder ultimately hinges on their culpable mental state at the time of the incident and whether there is a valid defense or justification, such as self-defense, duress, insanity, or accident. Successful defense strategies can result in reducing or even dismissing the charges, or alternatively mitigating the likely punishment in the event of conviction.

Murder is a 1st Degree Felony carrying a sentence ranging from five to ninety nine years (or life) in addition to a fine of up to $10,000. However, a defense lawyer may be able to argue that the defendant caused the death as a result of “sudden passion” arising from an adequate cause. If effective, this can reduce the crime to a second degree felony (2-20 years).

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Capital Murder

Capital murder is different from a murder in several significant ways. Perhaps the most important differentiator to a defendant is that a guilty verdict for murder comes with a sentence ranging from a minimum of 5 years to a maximum of life in prison. In contrast, capital murder brings an automatic sentence of either life in prison without parole or the death penalty.

An act of murder must meet one of several qualifications to be charged and tried as capital murder. The possible qualifiers for capital murder are as follows:

  • The defendant intentionally killed a victim while committing or attempting to commit other felonies, such as robbery, sexual assault, arson, or kidnapping.
  • The defendant killed two or more people in a single event.
  • The defendant exchanged murder for money, either as the actor or as the payor.
  • The defendant killed a specific class of persons, such as a child younger than 10 years old or an officer on duty.

Several possible defense strategies exist for a capital murder case. These include the same defenses available for a murder charge, but also include efforts to refute a finding of future dangerousness. The evidence in a capital murder case is often complicated and very voluminous. Defense tactics vary depending on the nature of the evidence and circumstances surrounding the incident. It is essential that you retain a lawyer who has the knowledge, experience, and skills to provide you with a powerful defense.

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Manslaughter involves an unintentional homicide caused by the reckless behavior of an actor. Recklessness means that a person is aware of a substantial risk, but disregards that risk, such as texting while driving or mishandling a loaded firearm. Another example of manslaughter is causing a death as a result of driving while intoxicated. This is called intoxicated manslaughter.

Manslaughter and intoxicated manslaughter are second-degree felonies. If found guilty, the defendant could receive a prison sentence ranging from two to 20 years, plus a possible $10,000 fine.

Challenging a charge of manslaughter can be very different than other homicides in that the typical defenses under Texas law center around justifications or intent. In a manslaughter case, there is no intent to do harm, so defenses associated with crimes involving recklessness may include attacking the State’s evidence of causation, challenging identity, or even arguing that the burden of proof wasn’t met by the State’s case in chief.

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Criminally Negligent Homicide

There are three qualifiers a person must meet, according to Texas Law, to commit Criminally Negligent Homicide:

1. The person caused the death of an individual
2. The person should have known his or her conduct created a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death
3. The person failed to perceive the risk which an ordinary reasonable person would have perceived and avoided.

Simply put, a person could be held responsible because he or she should have known the risks involved. Criminally Negligent Homicide is a state jail felony carrying a possible prison sentence of 180 days up to two years in state jail.

If you’ve been arrested for criminally negligent homicide and have never been convicted of any other felony in the State of Texas, you may be able to get probation.

If you are under investigation or have been arrested for any type of Homicide, it is imperative to seek an experienced lawyer as soon as possible. As a Marine Corps veteran, a former investigator, and experienced trial prosecutor, Kenneth Biggs looks forward to putting his experience to work for you and your case. Schedule your free legal consultation with him today.

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