By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
A person causing the death of another can be prosecuted in a number of different ways with vastly different punishment ranges in Texas – though they are all felonies in one form or another.
Murder and homicide are legally very similar to assault the main difference where the result of defendant’s actions are death instead of injury.
First Year Law School on Murder
In first year law school criminal law they teach to follow the “mens rea” which is latin for mental state when it comes to murder or homicide. Premeditation (or lack of pre-meditation) is the single biggest factor in how murder is prosecuted.
The general provision for Texas Criminal Homicide is simple enough though the deeper you get into Texas murder law the more complex it becomes.
(a) A person commits criminal homicide if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence causes the death of an individual.
(b) Criminal homicide is murder, capital murder, manslaughter, or criminally negligent homicide.
Murder is committed where someone knowingly or intentionally causes the death of an individual under Tex.Pen.C. 19.02(b).
Sounds legally simple enough but remember to follow the “mens rea.” If there is “sudden passion” which resulted in the homicide then it carries a lesser punishment. Tex.Pen.C. 19.02(c).
Also there is a concept called “felony murder” which means if you are committing a felony (like robbing a bank or engaging in a car chase) and someone dies – it’s murder as well. Tex.Pen.C. 19.02(b)(3).
Capital murder is murder plus an aggravating factor. See Tex.Pen.C 19.03 for a full list but it generally includes:
- The murder of a public servant such as peace officer or firefighter;
- Murder as a part of another felony act such as kidnapping, burglary or sexual assault;
- Murder for hire/ solicitation;
- Murder of a child.
Capital Murder can either be punished by death in certain instances or by automatic life without parole.
Manslaughter is committed where the person recklessly causes the death of another. It can often be vehicular in nature. It can also often involve intoxication. Manslaughter is a 2nd degree felony punishable by 2-20 years of prison.
Reckless is where a person “…is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk.” Tex.Pen.C. 6.03(c).
Criminally Negligent Homicide
Where criminal negligence causes a persons death – this statute can be applicable. This is known as a “state jail felony” punishable between 180 days and 2 years of prison.
Criminal negligence is basically when a person “…ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur.” Tex.Pen.C. 6.03(d). It can often be vehicular in nature too.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He has been designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.