By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
Manslaughter in Texas is codified under Texas Penal Code Chapter 19.04(a) and is committed when someone “recklessly causes the death of an individual.” Manslaughter is a 2nd Degree Felony (2 to 20 years in the Texas Department of Corrections).
The legal definition for reckless is defined by Tex.Pen.C. 6.03(c). That provision states, ” A person acts recklessly, or is reckless, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.”
This legal standard is clearly and obviously subjective. Therefore, no bright line test as to any fact scenario can be indicative of whether a death could be charged as manslaughter as compared to any other form of homicide under Chapter 19. The best way to show what may be “reckless” is by giving some examples of cases where convictions for manslaughter were upheld on appeal.
Examples of Manslaughter Cases Upheld on Appeal
In Threet v. State, 2003 Tex. App. LEXIS 4136 (Tex.App. — Austin, 2003), Defendant was convicted of manslaughter where he and the victim, another college age student, got into an argument at a house-party and went outside to “trade licks.” The victim punched Defendant first in the chest, and the Defendant then punched victim in the face. When the victim fell to the ground, Defendant continued to punch him several times then kick him in the head with a hiking boot. The victim died later that evening. Defendant was indicted for murder, but was convicted of manslaughter, a lesser-included offense.
In Willis v. State, 761 S.W.2d 434 (Tex.App. — Houston [14th Dist]), Defendant was similarly convicted of manslaughter where he struck a man with a pistol-butt on the head on the steps leadning into a pool hall. The victim fell backwards and struck his head on the board. The victim broke his neck and died the next day. Similar to Threet, Defendant was originally charged with murder but the jury found the lesser-included offense of manslaughter to be appropriate.
Manslaughter is similar, but should not be confused with intoxicated manslaughter which you can read about here.
Criminally Negligent Homicide
Criminally negligent homicide is defined by Texas Penal Code Chapter 19.05(a) and is committed when someone causes the death of an individual by criminal negligence. Criminally negligent homicide is a State Jail Felony (between 180 days and 2 years in a State Jail institution).
Criminal negligence is defined by Tex.Pen.C. 6.03(d) and is occurs when someone is “criminally negligent, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.”
Again, this standard is extremely subjective, so here is a case where appeals courts have sustained convictions for criminally negligent homicide: Chambless v. State, 368 S.W.3d 785 (Tex.App.– Austin, 2012), Defendant woke up in the middle of the night due to noises in his front yard. Assuming it was a neighbors dog, Defendant fired a semi-automatic rifle three to five times into the yard. Unbeknownst to Defendant, the victim, a neighbor was in his yard and had been hit by the bullets.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice about any situation, you should consult an attorney directly. Contacting the attorney through this forum does not create an attorney-client relationship. Communications sent through this forum are not confidential nor privileged.