The difference between homicide, murder and manslaughter in Texas can seem a bit confusing. We often use these terms interchangeably, without understanding the true meaning of each. But rest assured, we’re here to clear up any misunderstandings.
Under the Texas Penal Code, “criminal homicide” is when someone intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence causes the death of an individual. Criminal homicide is divided into four categories that range in severity. These are:
(1) Capital Murder;
(3) Manslaughter; and
(4) Criminally Negligent Homicide.
Unlike some states, Texas does not have “degrees” of murder, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide (i.e., first-degree murder). Instead, the charge itself determines the punishment range.
Capital murder is the most severe of all homicide offenses. In Texas, punishment for capital murder is either death by lethal injection or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
A person commits capital murder if he or she intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual in one of the following nine circumstances:
(1) Murdering a police officer or fireman while they are on duty and the person knows they are a police officer or fireman.
(2) Murdering someone during or while attempting to commit a kidnapping, burglary, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction or retaliation, or certain type of terroristic threat.
(3) Murdering someone for payment or the promise of payment or hiring another person to commit a murder for payment.
(4) Murdering someone while escaping or attempting to escape from prison.
(5) Murdering someone employed by a prison while incarcerated.
(6) Murdering someone while incarcerated for murder or while serving a life sentence for aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, or aggravated robbery.
(7) Murdering more than one person during the same criminal episode.
(8) Murdering someone under 10 years old.
(9) Murdering someone because of their employment as a judge.
Murder is defined under the Texas Penal Code as intentionally or knowingly causing the death of another individual. In short, doing something that kills another person. This could mean shooting someone, stabbing them, poisoning them—you get the idea. The key word here is “intentional or knowing.” If you accidentally kill someone, you’re more likely to be charged with criminally negligent homicide than murder.
You can also be charged with murder if you only intend to cause bodily injury to another person and they wind up dead. For example, let’s say you’re so angry at your friend you hit him in the head with a baseball bat. The blow to the head fractures your friend’s skull and he dies. Even though you didn’t mean to kill your friend, you can be charged with murder because you intentionally did something that was so harmful or dangerous that the law says it shouldn’t matter.
Another subcategory of murder is the felony-murder rule. This occurs when during the course of committing a felony offense, you cause the death of another person. For example, let’s say that you’re on a high speed chase with police after robbing a bank. You run a stop sign and hit another vehicle, killing the driver. Even though the crash was an accident, you will be charged with the driver’s murder since it occurred during the commission of a crime.
Murder is a first-degree felony offense punishable by between five years to life in prison and/or up to a $10,000 fine. Murder is also a 3g offense, meaning that you must serve at least half of your sentence or thirty years (whichever is less) before you are eligible for parole.
A person commits manslaughter if he or she “recklessly causes the death of an individual.” A person acts recklessly when he or she is “aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk.”
The most common type of manslaughter offense is intoxication manslaughter. This occurs when someone is driving while intoxicated and as a result of their intoxication, kills another person while driving.
Manslaughter and intoxication manslaughter are second-degree felonies, punishable by between two to twenty years in prison and/or up to a $10,000 fine.
Criminally Negligent Homicide
Criminally negligent homicide occurs when someone causes the death of another by criminal negligence. A person acts with criminal negligence when he or she “ought to be aware of a substantial and justifiable risk” that their conduct will kill another person.
However, the line between “negligent” and “criminally negligent” can be difficult to discern. At some point, the law says that negligence is so bad that it can be charged as a crime if it results in another’s death. Some examples of this charge includes:
- Failing to call emergency services
- Leaving a child in a hot car
- Hazing by college students
Criminally negligent homicide is a state jail felony, which is the least severe category of felony charges in Texas. A state jail felony is punishable by between 180 days to two years in state jail and/or up to a $10,000 fine.
If you’ve been charged with murder, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, it is important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact me today so that I can answer any questions you might have.