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What Does “Capital Murder” Mean In Texas?

By January 25, 2024February 12th, 2024Capital Crimes, Murder

Murder is perhaps the most serious crime that a person can commit. However, in the eyes of the law, while all murders are considered heinous, they are not all equal in punishment.

In the state of Texas, there are different laws covering the crime of murder that clarify the severity of the penalty. Specifically, they are broken down into felony murder, second degree murder, first degree murder, and capital murder.

We will go through these different crimes, establish what they are, and provide some specific examples of each. After this, we will clarify what the penalty is for each of these crimes.

What Are the Laws Surrounding Murder In Texas?

As mentioned above, there are various levels to the crime of murder, with the most serious being capital murder and the least serious in the eyes of the law being felony murder. Each form of murder, in order of least to most severe, is as follows:

Felony Murder

Felony Murder involves the killing of a person during the commission of another crime. An example of this would be someone killed during a bank robbery. If the defendants were robbing a bank and a guard was killed trying to stop them, the original intent wasn’t to kill the guard. Therefore, this falls under felony murder.

Second Degree Murder

Second-degree murder involves an impulsive killing of another person. An example of this would be two people arguing at a bar. One person pulls out a knife and stabs the other person, who later dies. Because the crime was not premeditated, and instead happened on impulse, it is second-degree murder.

First Degree Murder

First-degree murder involves the premeditated killing of another person. An example of this would be a woman who poisons her husband. Because the crime was planned in advance and the person intentionally and deliberately killed the victim, the crime is charged as first-degree murder.

Capital Murder

Capital murder and first-degree murder are both very similar. Both involve the premeditated killing of another person. The main difference between the two are the circumstances surrounding the crimes. Capital murder in Texas must involve one of the following elements:

  • The victim is a peace officer or fireman in the line of duty and the defendant knows this.
  • The killing occurs during the commission or attempt of the following felonies: kidnapping, burglary, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction or retaliation, or terroristic threat.
  • The killing was committed for payment or promise of payment. In this instance, both the person who paid for the killing and the actual killer can be charged with capital murder.
  • The killing occurs during the escape, or attempted escape, from a penal institution.
  • The killing is committed by an incarcerated person in conjunction with organized criminal activity.
  • The killing is committed by a person incarcerated for the following aggravated felonies: aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, or aggravated robbery;
  • The defendant kills more than one individual either in one act, such as a mass shooting, or during different criminal acts, such as gang killings or as a serial killer.
  • The victim is under 10 years old.
  • The victim was a judge or justice and the killing was committed in retaliation or on account of the judge or justice’s service.

What Are The Penalties For Murder and Capital Murder In Texas?

Our state treats the crime of murder very seriously. All forms of murder in the state of Texas are considered a first-degree felony. The punishment for a crime of this level is between five and 99 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000.

What Does “Capital Murder” Mean In Texas?

The only exception to this is the crime of capital murder. The penalty for a capital crime in Texas is life imprisonment or the death penalty. The minimum age at which a person can be charged with a capital crime in the state is 17 years of age.



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 Criminal defense attorney in Fort Worth, 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.