Being responsible for the death of another person is a terrible thing, but when it’s an accident, it may be even worse. Case in point: A 22-year old Texas woman who pointed a gun she didn’t realize was loaded at a friend and accidentally shot him in the head.
She is being charged with manslaughter, but should she be charged with something else? Accidental killings do occur but are they recognized by the law? In short, yes.
Accidentally killing someone isn’t always charged with as manslaughter. In fact, there is a difference between accidental killing and manslaughter in the eyes of the law. Here’s what you should know about it.
Texas Law: Accidental Killing or Manslaughter?
Under the law, accidental killing is defined as a death produced by a lawful act performed under the reasonable belief that no harm would come to the victim.
The lawful act is what distinguishes accidental killing from involuntary manslaughter, as the latter is defined as when a death is the result of either a) a lawful act performed in an unlawful way or b) an unlawful act.
Manslaughter in Texas
The Texas Penal code identifies manslaughter as recklessly causing the death of another person. An act is considered reckless if it is the perpetrator is aware of the risk that can arise from their conduct or that a person could die as a result but disregards the awareness of those facts.
In order to be charged with manslaughter in Texas, it’s not required that the intent, knowledge, or evidence of premeditation is proven, only that the defendant acted recklessly.
Another important note about manslaughter in Texas is that the state does not differentiate between involuntary and voluntary manslaughter as many other states do. Texas does provide other designations of manslaughter such as vehicular manslaughter and intoxication manslaughter. Each of these charges has its own penalties.
Intoxication manslaughter can be charged if the defendant is driving while intoxicated and kills another person as a result. This is also charged as a second-degree felony with the same penalties as manslaughter.
As far as vehicular manslaughter is concerned, there is no specific Texas statute that defines this crime, but it can be charged with the assistance of other legal statutes. If the death of a person involves a moving vehicle that was driven in a reckless manner, then vehicular manslaughter can be charged.
Manslaughter Penalties in Texas
In Texas, manslaughter is a second-degree felony. As a second degree felony, anyone convicted can face up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.
It is important to note that penalties, in any case, are subject to the court’s evaluation of the circumstances surrounding the crime and every person is innocent until proven guilty.
Possible Defenses of Manslaughter
If accused of manslaughter it’s important to mount an effective defense. There are several ways in which defendants can defend themselves against manslaughter charges, though it’s crucial to note that no defense is 100 percent effective. Anyone can be convicted, even if its for a lesser crime than manslaughter.
- The most common manslaughter defenses include:
- The innocence of the charges against a person
- Actions are taken in self-defense
In the case of an accidental killing, it’s important to understand how you’re being charged and what the result could be. Know your rights if you’re in court.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. He has been named one of the 3 Best DUI Lawyers in Fort Worth, recognized by Expertise, National Trial Lawyers, Avvo, and others, and he is Lead Counsel rated.