In Texas, homicide charges are among the most serious criminal charges an individual can face. These charges come with high penalties that can include lengthy prison sentences and even the death penalty. Understanding the different types of homicide charges is crucial for anyone involved in such a case, whether as a defendant, legal professional, or concerned party such as friends and family. The Texas Penal Code § 19 classifies homicide into several categories: criminally negligent homicide, manslaughter, murder, and capital murder. Each of these charges have distinct elements and carries different legal consequences.

Criminally Negligent Homicide

Criminally negligent homicide occurs when an individual’s actions, though not intentional, result in the death of another person due to a lack of reasonable care. Under Texas Penal Code § 19.05, a person commits criminally negligent homicide if they cause the death of another by non-premeditation actions, criminal negligence. This charge typically applies in situations where the defendant failed to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that their actions could cause death, which constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care an ordinary person would exercise.

For example, a person might face criminally negligent homicide charges if they accidentally discharge a firearm, resulting in someone’s death, or if a parent leaves a small child unattended in a vehicle on a hot day, leading to the child’s death. Conviction for criminally negligent homicide in Texas is classified as a state jail felony, punishable by 180 days to 2 years in state jail and a possible fine of up to $10,000.

Manslaughter

Manslaughter is a more serious charge than criminally negligent homicide and involves recklessly causing the death of another person without premeditation. According to Texas Penal Code § 19.04, a person commits manslaughter if they recklessly engage in conduct that results in another person’s death. The key element of manslaughter is recklessness, which implies that the individual was aware of but consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that their actions could cause death.

Involuntary manslaughter is when somebody accidently kills another without the intention or any form of harm or even death. An example of manslaughter might include a driver who, while excessively speeding or driving under the influence, causes a fatal car accident. 

Voluntary manslaughter is when somebody has killed “in the moment” and did not pre-plan the murder. An example is somebody provoked strong feelings of anger during a fight, resulting in a death.

Unlike criminally negligent homicide, which involves failing to perceive a risk, manslaughter involves a conscious disregard of a known risk. In Texas, manslaughter is considered a second-degree felony, carrying a punishment of 2 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Murder

Murder, as defined by Texas Penal Code § 19.02, is divided into several categories, but it generally involves intentionally or knowingly causing the death of another person. There are three main ways a person can be charged with murder in Texas:

  1. Intentionally or knowingly causing the death of another person.
  2. Intending to cause serious bodily injury and committing an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes death.
  3. Committing or attempting to commit a felony (other than manslaughter) and in the course of or in furtherance of the commission or attempt, committing or attempting to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes death (felony murder rule).

For instance, if an individual intentionally shoots another person with the intent to kill, they would be charged with murder. Similarly, if a person plans to commit a serious assault that results in the victim’s death, this too constitutes murder. Under Texas law, murder is typically a first-degree felony, punishable by 5 to 99 years or life in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Capital Murder

Capital murder is the most severe form of homicide charge in Texas, carrying the possibility of the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole. Texas Penal Code § 19.03 outlines several circumstances that elevate a murder to capital murder, including:

  • Murdering a peace officer or fireman in the line of duty.
  • Committing murder during the commission of certain felonies such as kidnapping, burglary, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction, retaliation, or terroristic threat.
  • Murder for remuneration or promise of remuneration.
  • Murder during an escape from a penal institution.
  • Murder of a person under ten years of age.
  • Multiple murders during the same criminal transaction or scheme.

Because of the severe penalties associated with capital murder, including the death penalty, these cases receive significant attention and require a meticulous and robust defense strategy. Usually it will be the judge’s duty to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that its a capital murder vs a lesser charge such as murder. 

Seeking Legal Help Defending Against Homicide Charges in Texas

Choosing the Right Attorney: When facing homicide charges, it is vital to choose the best Houston murder homicide defense attorney with a proven track record in defending similar cases. They should be well-versed in Texas homicide laws, possess strong negotiation skills, and have substantial trial experience.

Building a Defense Strategy: A successful defense strategy may involve challenging the prosecution’s evidence, presenting alternative theories of the crime, and demonstrating that the defendant’s actions do not meet the legal standards for the charged offense. Common defenses include self-defense, lack of intent, alibi, insanity, and challenging the reliability of forensic evidence.

Preparing for Trial: Preparation for trial involves gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and developing a compelling narrative that supports the defendant’s innocence or mitigates their culpability. Expert witnesses, such as forensic experts and mental health professionals, may be critical in providing testimony that supports the defense’s case.

Post-Conviction Options: If convicted, the defendant may have options for appealing the verdict or seeking post-conviction relief. An experienced attorney can advise on the viability of an appeal, potential grounds for challenging the conviction, and other legal remedies that may be available.

Understanding the types of murder and homicide charges in Texas, from criminally negligent homicide to capital murder, is essential for anyone involved in the criminal justice system. Each charge carries different elements and penalties, requiring tailored defense strategies to address the specific circumstances of the case. Seeking knowledgeable and experienced legal help is crucial for those facing these serious charges, as the outcome can significantly impact the defendant’s future and freedom.

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