Criminal Homicide in Texas includes Criminally Negligent Homicide, Manslaughter, Murder, and Capital Murder. In all these cases, one individual is alleged to have caused the death of another individual. What distinguishes criminally negligent homicide, manslaughter, murder and capital murder from each other is the culpable mental state, or intent, of the actor when he allegedly caused the other's death. The punishment range for these four types of homicides is vastly different.
Capital murder is defined as murder, intentionally or knowingly (culpable mental state) causing the death of an individual, while committing or attempting to commit an enumerated felony, killing two people at the same time, being paid or paying someone to commit murder, or murder of a specific class of persons, such as a peace officer acting in the line of duty, or an individual under 10 years of age.
The punishment range upon conviction for Capital Murder is either Life without Parole or Death. Where the Death penalty is sought is a decision that is made solely by the elected District Attorney. If the State does not seek the death penalty, then upon conviction, an automatic Life Without Parole is assessed without evidence being offered in the punishment phase of trial. In the punishment phase of a capital murder trial where the State is seeking the death penalty, the jury does not answer “Life” or “Death”. The jury answer’s three “Special Issues” and based on how the jury answers those special issues, the Judge will either impose a Life or Death sentence.
It is crucial in a Capital Murder case, where the State is seeking the death penalty, to thoroughly investigate the allegations and evidence to develop defenses to show the defendant is not guilty. This would also include the appointment of experts and investigators to assist the defense in the preparation and presentation of said defenses to a jury.
Equally important is the investigation of every aspect of the defendant’s life, from birth to present, to find mitigating evidence that can be presented to the jury should the defendant be convicted. This mitigating evidence is often the difference between a Life and Death sentence being imposed. The third special issue the jury is asked to consider asks “if there is anything in the evidence that the jury finds sufficiently mitigating to warrant a Life sentence over the Death sentence being imposed.” If the jury answers this third special issue “yes” a Life sentence will be imposed.
Murder is when someone intentionally or knowingly takes the Life of another person. The culpable mental state of intentionally or knowingly is satisfied when it is someone’s conscious objective or desire to engage in conduct that results in the death of a person. So, for example, if you engaged in the conduct of intentionally or knowingly shooting someone with a gun, and it was your desire, when you shot them, that they would die, you have committed the offense of murder, provided you were not acting in self-defense and were not insane at the time of the offense.
The range of punishment for Murder is not less than 5, nor more than Life, in prison, and a fine, if any, not to exceed $10,000.00. Murder is an offense where probation is not an option, and you must serve one half of your sentence, day for day, before you are eligible for parole.
In the punishment phase of the trial, if it is found that at the time of the murder, the defendant acted with “sudden passion”, the punishment range is reduced to not less than 2, nor more than 20, years in prison and a fine, if any, not to exceed $10,000.00
Manslaughter is when your actions are reckless and it results in the death of a person. A person acts recklessly when he is aware of, but consciously disregards, a substantial or unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. It’s when someone causes the death of an individual, not because they intended to, but because they disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk when they did some act that resulted in an individuals death. An example is someone who drives while impaired on alcohol and they hit someone and kill them. They did not intentionally kill that person, but they recklessly disregarded the risk of driving drunk, and in doing so, caused the death of another person.
There are two types of Manslaughter:
In Texas, Manslaughter and Intoxicated Manslaughter are second-degree felonies with a punishment range of not less than 2, nor more than, 20 years in prison, and a fine, if any, not to exceed $10,000.00. If you have never before been convicted of a felony in Texas, or any other State, you are eligible for probation from a judge or jury. In the punishment phase of trial, a judge can only assess deferred adjudication probation or prison time and a jury can only assess adjudicated probation or prison time.
Criminally Negligent Homicide is when you 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 defendant’s standpoint.
In these cases, the defendant, did not intentionally kill someone, and was not even reckless in their actions. They were Criminally Negligent. The person causing the death failed to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that an ordinary person would have perceived, and as a result, did something that caused the death of another person.
Criminally negligent homicide is a state jail felony, with a possible sentence of 180 days to two years in a state jail facility, and a fine not to exceed $10,000. If the State alleges that you used a deadly weapon, the punishment is increased to that of a third degree felony (not less than 2, nor more than 10, years in prison), and you must serve one half of your sentence before you are eligible for parole. If you have never before been convicted of a felony in Texas, or any other State, you are eligible for probation from a judge or jury. If a deadly weapon is alleged by the State in the indictment, a judge can only assess deferred adjudication probation or prison time and a jury can only assess adjudicated probation or prison time.
If you have been arrested for a Criminal Homicide case in East Texas, it is imperative that you contact an experienced lawyer as soon as possible. I have successfully tried before a jury over 25 Murder and Capital Murder cases, as well as numerous Manslaughter and Criminally Negligent Homicides. Call the Law Offices of D. Matt Bingham today to schedule a free initial consultation for your criminal case.