Types of Homicide Charges in Texas
Texas Penal Code Chapter 19 defines four types of criminal homicide:
- Criminally negligent homicide
- Capital Murder
A person commits manslaughter if they recklessly cause someone’s death.
Criminally negligent homicide occurs when someone dies due to another person’s careless or reckless actions.
A person commits murder if they:
- Knowingly or intentionally cause an individual’s death.
- Commit an act that is clearly dangerous to human life with the intent to cause serious bodily injury, and the act causes someone’s death.
- Attempt to commit or commit a felony, other than manslaughter, and while committing or attempting to commit the offense, or immediately after, attempt to commit or commit an act that is obviously dangerous to human life that causes someone’s death.
A person commits capital murder if they:
- Intentionally commit the murder while committing or attempting to commit robbery, arson, terroristic threat, kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, burglary, obstruction, or retaliation.
- Murder a fireman or peace officer who was in the lawful discharge of their official duty and knew the victim was a fireman or peace officer.
- Commit the murder for the promise of payment, for actual payment, or employs someone to commit a murder for payment or the promise of payment.
- Commit the murder while attempting to escape or escaping from a penal institution.
- While imprisoned in a penal institution, murders someone who is an employee of the institution.
- Murder another person while incarcerated for murder, or murder someone while serving a life sentence or 99 years for committing aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, or aggravated robbery.
- Murder numerous people during the same criminal activity or during different criminal activities, but the murders happen due to the same plan or course of conduct.
- Murder a person under 10 years old.
- Murder an individual between 10 and 15 years old.
- Murder someone as retaliation for that person’s service or status as a judge or justice of the court.
Note that in common slang, “187” refers to homicide. It stems from Section 187 of the California Penal Code, which defines murder as a crime. In Texas, there is no such thing as 187.
The Difference Between State and Federal Murder Charges
Every state, including Texas, has its own laws regarding criminal actions and sentencing. Federal prosecutors typically let the states handle cases involving various legal matters. However, some circumstances require the federal government to step in and prosecute a criminal case at the federal level.
State and federal laws consider the same criminal offenses illegal. Some of these laws overlap, meaning prosecutors can charge some crimes at the state and federal levels. However, Texas law often leads to state charges unless federal prosecutors decide to intervene and take on the case.
Federal crimes are significantly more serious than state prosecuted offenses. Additionally, sentencing is more severe. In Texas, murder is a first-degree felony, punishable by five to 99 years imprisonment or life in state prison. However, a conviction for a federal murder charge could lead to life in federal prison or the death penalty.
Murder and Homicide Defense Strategies
An Austin homicide lawyer from Minton, Bassett, Flores & Carsey, P.C., can defend you against your homicide or murder charge. The most common defense strategies include:
- Self-defense – Sometimes, people must use physical force to defend themselves against an attack or perceived threat. However, self-defense is only a valid defense strategy if there’s proof that the defendant feared for their life and acted reasonably to protect themselves. Even if the defensive act leads to another person’s homicide, self-defense could lead to a not guilty verdict.
- Defense of others – Similar to self-defense, defense of others is a justifiable action to defend someone from harm.
- Insanity – Insanity is a valuable defense in a murder or homicide case because these two offenses require intent or, at the very least conscious action and awareness of what’s happening. Pleading insanity means the defendant didn’t know the difference between right and wrong.
- Lack of intent – Because intent is a significant part of proving guilt in a murder case, your charge could be reduced to manslaughter if intent did not exist at the time of the crime.
- Mistaken identity – Sometimes, witnesses point to a person who did not commit the crime. Mistaken identity requires a solid alibi to prove that the defendant was somewhere else at the time of the offense. DNA evidence is also valuable in exonerating a wrongfully charged defendant.
- Violation of a Constitutional right – Sometimes, law enforcement violates a person’s rights. For example, if law enforcement obtains evidence by performing an unlawful search and seizure, a successful motion to suppress evidence ensures the prosecution can’t present the evidence during the trial.
Potential Penalties for a Homicide Conviction
A homicide sentence in Texas depends on the type of offense and other factors involved. Sentencing guidelines determine the prison term and fine for each type of charge.
Criminally negligent homicide is a state jail felony, punishable by:
- 180 days to two years in state jail
- Up to a $10,000 fine
Manslaughter is a second-degree felony, punishable by:
- Two to 20 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
- A maximum of a $10,000 fine
Murder is a first-degree felony, punishable by:
- No more than a $10,000 fine
- Between 5 and 99 years or life in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Capital murder is a capital felony. If the state seeks the death penalty, sentencing is death or life imprisonment without parole.
Suppose the state does not seek the death penalty. In that case, the sentence is imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for:
- Life, if the defendant was under 18 when they committed the crime
- Life without parole, if the individual committed the offense when they were at least 18
Talk to Our Austin Murder Lawyers Today
Minton, Bassett, Flores & Carsey, P.C., has fought for our client’s rights since 1963. When you hire an experienced and knowledgeable Austin homicide attorney from our firm, you will receive quality representation throughout the legal process.
We know how to create a robust strategy to defend against a murder, homicide, or attempted homicide charge. Considering the seriousness of these accusations, it’s crucial to receive the best representation possible.
If you face a murder charge in Texas, call us for your confidential consultation.