Murder in Texas
Has someone you know been accused of murder? There is no need to mention how serious it is. You need to be well informed and get a competent lawyer.
Facing possible murder charges is terrifying and can be a very stressful situation. The penalties for murder can be quite severe, especially in Texas. You might get sentenced for life or, even worse, get the death penalty. The worst place to face homicide charges in the United States is Texas due to our harsh penalties for those convicted.
A homicide case requires the expert intervention of an experienced criminal defense attorney who has an in-depth understanding of the law.
Murder in Texas is usually addressed under criminal homicide, which includes criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter. If an individual causes another person to lose his/her life “recklessly,” “knowingly,” or with “criminal negligence,” then that individual commits a particular form of criminal homicide.
Types of homicide in Texas
Legally speaking, homicide refers to the actions of a person that causes the death of someone else. As per Texas law, there are different types of criminal homicide. The main types are murder and manslaughter.
Several states in the United States have two main forms of manslaughter; involuntary and voluntary manslaughter. Texas takes the two forms and combines them into one and therefore placing harsh penalties depending on the aggravating factors.
A conviction of manslaughter depends on the efforts of the defense team to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant recklessly caused the death of another individual. Recklessness is used to mean that the actions of the defendant had an unjustifiable and substantial risk leading to the death of the victim. The actions must have also been different from what an ordinary person might consider being standard care when avoiding serious harm.
The term recklessness is also used to mean that the defendant had the knowledge that his/her actions would be life-threatening to another individual but acted despite knowing so.
If, on the other hand, the defense team can establish that the defendant was unaware of the unjustifiable and substantial risks posed to another person, the law describes it as criminally negligent homicide.
A conviction of criminally negligent homicide is considered to be a lesser charge whereby the defendant might be sentenced to a jail term of two years. On the other hand, a conviction of manslaughter is categorized as a second-degree felony with a punishment of between 2 to 20 years in state prison with a fine that can amount up to $10,000.
It is important to note that Texas is the only state with a specific crime called intoxication manslaughter. The offense means that an individual causes the death of another person as a result of being impaired by drugs or alcohol. Intoxication manslaughter mostly involves drunk driving. The defendant might get minimum sentencing for intoxication manslaughter charges. This means that you will first be required to serve a specific jail term, after which you become eligible for parole and mandatory hours dedicated to community service.
According to the Texas penal code chapter 19, a person who commits murder;
- Causes the death of another individual or
- Aims to cause serious bodily harm intentionally to another person or
- Acts dangerously resulting in the death of another person or
- Commits or attempts another act categorized as a felony and
- In the course of attempting the offense, the defendant commits a dangerous act that leads to the death of another individual.
In simple terms, murder is committed when the defendant willingly and knowingly causes the death of another individual. Unlike the manslaughter charge where the death of the victim is as a result of an act of recklessness but without the intent to kill, a crime is categorized as murder if the defendant intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to the victim.
There is a distinction between murder and capital murder in the state of Texas. Several states classify murder into the first degree and second degree. This is, however, not the case in Texas. According to criminal homicide in Texas law, there is murder and capital murder, which are separate charges that depend on the severity and circumstances of the case. Essentially, the difference between capital murder and murder revolves around whether murder results in capital punishment.
Texas Capital Murder
The prosecution can potentially elevate a first-degree murder charge to capital murder under certain specifications. The Texas penal code defines capital murder as murder that occurs under the following conditions.
- The defendant committed the crime of murder against a fireman or a peace officer while on official duty. The defendant should have been aware that the victim was a peace officer or a firefighter.
- The crime of murder occurred while the defendant was carrying out or attempting to do one of the following crimes categorized as a felony.
- Terrorist threat
- Aggravated assault
- An individual commits the crime of murder for payment. In such a situation, the person who commits the act and the one who hired him/her are both charged with felony murder.
- An individual causes the death of another person while escaping or attempting to escape from prison.
- An incarcerated individual kills an employee of the prison.
- When an incarcerated person who is already serving time for murder or capital murder, kills another person.
- When the crime of murder is committed by a person serving time for aggravated robbery, aggravated kidnapping, or aggravated sexual assault.
- An individual commits the act of murder against a person under 10 years old.
- The individual murders a person of age 10 year and above but not more than 15 years
- An individual causes the death of a judge or justice as a result of retaliation on the judge’s of justice’s service.
- An individual causes the death of more than one person.
“It is important to note that Texas is the only state with a specific crime called intoxication manslaughter… The defendant might get minimum sentencing for intoxication manslaughter charges. “
Penalties for Murder and Capital Murder
Chapter 12 of the Texas penal code section 12.32 stipulates the penalties for the crime of murder, which is categorized as a first-degree felony. The crime is punishable by a prison sentence of between 5 years to 99 years.
Chapter 12, under section 12.31 of the penal code, describes the penalties for a capital murder conviction. Apart from being sentenced to life imprisonment, the other punishment for capital murder is the death penalty. The state of Texas is among the 31 states that allow the death penalty sentence, which is mostly referred to as capital punishment.
When the jury delivers a guilty verdict on a capital murder case, the decision is usually based on special issues that determine whether the defendant will be sentenced to life imprisonment or get the death penalty. An individual above the age of 18 who is convicted of capital murder receives a minimum of life imprisonment with no parole. In a situation where the defendant is below the age of 18 years, he/she receives life imprisonment with the possibility of getting parole.
Special Issues Regarding Capital Murder
The jury must analyze the special issues brought before them when issuing capital punishment in a capital murder case. Once the jury decides and gives a guilty verdict, the judge is mandated to provide instructions to the jury to provide answers to the special issues. The special issues include;
Special issue 1: The judge asks the jury to determine whether there is a possibility that the individual under trial is likely to continue with acts of violence and hence becomes a threat to society.
Special issue 2: The judge asks the jury to determine whether the individual under trial is actually responsible for causing the death of the victim or did not cause the death of the victim even though he/she intended to kill the victim.
In the event where the jury’s answer to both issues is “yes,” without any reasonable doubt, the jurors will then be required to review special issue 3.
Special issue 3: The jury is required to consider all the evidence brought before them while also taking into account the background of the defendant, his/her morality, and character. Reviewing such factors provides room for consideration to determine whether the defendant should be sentenced to life imprisonment or get the death penalty.
The court will issue the death penalty to a capital murder case if the jury answers “yes” to special issue 1 and 2 while giving a “no” to the special issue 3.
Possible Defenses to Murder in Texas
The complexities of such proceedings require a criminal defense attorney who has vast knowledge in handling murder cases, especially if you or your loved one is facing a capital murder charge. Murder charges are very harsh, especially in Texas hence the need for an aggressive legal team to help you get the best outcome for your case.
Your attorney will come up with a defense strategy to convince the jury to rule in your favor or get sentenced for a lesser offense. The following are some of the defenses that can be used by your defense team.
Lack of Intent
Intent is an element in the crime of murder, according to the Texas penal code. For the crime to be categorized as murder, the defendant must have caused the death of another person intentionally. If the defense team can successfully establish that there was a lack of intent in the crime, the prosecution might be forced to go for a lesser charge.
A defense attorney can use insanity as a defense after carefully reviewing your case. When the defendant is found to be legally insane at the time that they committed the crime of murder, then the court might find him/her to be not guilty. There are cases where the defendant might be found guilty but get a reduced sentenced due to their mental impairment. Your legal team should be able to put up a strong defense by proving to the court that at the time of the crime, you had no comprehension over what you were doing. The defendant must have not known the difference between right and wrong and hence acted due to an uncontrollable impulse.
According to Texas law, an individual has the legal right to use some form of force towards an aggressor who threatens to commit particular criminal acts or illegally breaks into a person’s home. Self-defense is not applicable in a situation where the defendant murdered another person as a result of verbal provocation.
The defense team should also be able to establish that the act of self-defense was proportionate the threat posed by the murdered individual; otherwise, it would not be considered self-defense. A criminal defense attorney must be able to establish that the force used in the act of self-defense was warranted and justified. What matters is if a reasonable person might find the situation justified or not and not if the defendant considered it to be justified.
“Heat of Passion”
A defense attorney will consider the “heat of passion” defense if it can successfully establish that the murder was a result of a sudden uncontrollable feeling such as anger or terror and was, therefore, not a deliberate act. The court might find the defendant guilty of a less harsh offense like manslaughter, which has a reduced sentence.
If the defense attorney can convince the court that the defendant was intoxicated by alcohol or drugs at the time of the murder, then the outcome might be a conviction for a lesser charge. The key is to rule out the lack of intent to commit the crime. There are cases where intoxication might be involuntary, which is when the defendant was intoxicated with their knowledge at the time of the crime.
Get a Strong Defense Team
The charges of murder and manslaughter are serious crimes that involve harsh penalties. Since your life is on the line, your best chance is to have an aggressive defense lawyer who has handled murder cases before. Coming up with the best defense against murder charges requires precision and paying attention to details. Your legal team should be able to conduct its investigation by going through the crime scene reports and interviewing witnesses.
If you or someone you care about is facing homicide charges in Texas, then contact a criminal defense attorney today. The sooner you involve a lawyer in the case, then the higher the chances of getting a favorable outcome.
Whether you, or a close one or a relative, is in need of legal aid on Immigration; or you are a victim of the Judicial system, we can help you. Keep in mind:
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