Most of us view the act of killing another person in one of two ways: It was either murder or a horrible accident. Legislators understand that these matters are often far more complex.
In Texas, for instance, there are actually four different charges related to one person causing the death of another. They are manslaughter, murder, capital murder, and criminally negligent homicide.
The primary differences between these four charges?
The alleged offender’s intentions.
Upon conviction, the courts take a perpetrator’s intent into consideration when assigning penalties as well. This is sometimes quite literally the difference between life in prison or a death sentence in this state.
Murder is a Felony of the First Degree in Texas
Murder, a felony of the first degree, is the charge most of us imagine first. Committing murder is the process of taking someone else’s life both knowingly and intentionally. Most of the time, the perpetrator specifically intended to kill the victim.
Sometimes, though, a murder charge results in a case where an act that is clearly dangerous (like a physical assault) winds up taking someone’s life, even if that was not the original intention.
In Texas Capital Murder Cases, the Death Penalty is an Option
Capital murder is the most severe charge in the justice system. This charge is a capital felony, meaning the death penalty can be applied.
To be convicted of capital murder, prosecutors must prove that you committed murder under certain circumstances including (but not limited to):
- You committed murder while committing another felonious act
- You killed someone for money
- You killed a police officer during the course of his or her duty
If you are facing capital murder charges, and aren’t sure why it is imperative you speak to an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney as soon as you can.
Manslaughter in Texas is a Second-Degree Felony
Manslaughter is considered a felony of the second degree. It is less severe than murder charges. These charges are often made when a death occurs with zero intention of anyone getting hurt, let alone actually dying.
Instead, manslaughter charges are the result of an act of “recklessly” causing the death of someone else. Car accidents that result in death are where our minds typically go when we’re thinking about manslaughter cases.
The charge specifically associated with this scenario is called vehicular manslaughter here in Texas. Reckless acts committed while intoxicated can also lead to “intoxication manslaughter” charges if something goes horribly wrong.
Criminally Negligence is the Lowest-Level Homicide Charge in Texas
There is a fine line standing between that manslaughter charge and one of criminally negligent homicide. Again, that line may be crossed, only by proving intent.
Neither crime involves malicious intent to harm or kill someone, but in a manslaughter case, the offender’s actions are what led to the death of a victim. In contrast, cases of criminal negligence involve the omission of reasonable actions instead.
For instance, if a person dies in a “heat of passion” killing, the perpetrator may face a manslaughter conviction if the crime is not proved to be pre-meditated.
On the other hand, if a person is shot, and someone sees they are badly injured but chooses not to help them and the victim ends up dying, that is grounds for criminal negligence.
Criminal negligence is a state jail felony that carries a two-year prison sentence and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Being charged with murder or criminally negligent homicide can be the difference between a few years and a lifetime behind bars – or worse. Sometimes, homicide is criminal negligence, not murder, but that line is often pretty thin.
The stakes in murder trials are therefore incredibly high. Because of this, should you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re concerned about these types of charges, your first step should always be to find good representation.
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. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.