Homicide Defense | Understanding Criminal Homicide in Texas


What is a Homicide in Texas?

The Penal Code defines criminal homicide as intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence, causing the death of an individual. This definition includes the four offenses of capital murder, murder, manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide.

Criminal homicide in Texas is a definition and a category of offenses. Criminal homicide is not on its own a defined offense. It is also worth noting that terms used to describe offenses in other jurisdictions may carry no legal meaning in Texas. Terms not used in Texas include murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, premeditated murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter. While these are common phrases in movies and TV shows, remember that most movies and TV shows are not made in Texas.

Another big difference between what we see on television and the actual law is the concept of premeditation. In layman’s terms, premeditation is the act of planning out and committing a crime, as opposed to committing it spur of the moment. How long someone thought about killing a person isn’t central to criminal homicide offenses in Texas. What’s more important is the outcome of the conduct and the culpable mental state. For instance, whether someone plans for weeks to murder another person, or whether the killing was committed on the spur of the moment after getting into an unexpected argument, will likely result in the same charge in Texas. In other states, the charges might be different based on premeditation.

Similarly, while motive may be a great contextual fact, motive is not an element of a crime under the homicide umbrella in Texas.

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It is important to understand that not all acts of causing the death of an individual are considered criminal homicide under the Penal Code. Intoxication manslaughter is not included in the definition of criminal homicide. The Penal Code also provides that the criminal homicide definition applies to the death of an unborn child, unless the mother has an abortion performed by a doctor, or the child is aborted by use of drugs in accordance with the law. Finally, the Penal Code clarifies what is known as lesser-included offenses for criminal homicide. Lesser-included offenses are found throughout the Penal Code and basically refers to what a defendant can be charged with, versus what the jury or judge can find them guilty of at trial.

In the case of criminal homicide, a prosecutor can only charge a defendant with one offense for every set of elements of the offense completed. In other words, if a person causes the death of one person in the course of committing a felony, he or she can only be charged with one count of murder. However, at trial, if permitted by the judge, the jury upon hearing the evidence may decide to convict the defendant of either murder or a lesser-included offense. They may decide the evidence only proves manslaughter beyond a reasonable doubt or even criminally negligent homicide. Lesser-included offenses apply to offenses below the one for which the defendant is charged. In this case, you can’t be found guilty of capital murder by the jury. The jury can’t go up the ladder, only down.

Capital Murder

Murder becomes capital murder under certain circumstances. For instance, if the victim was a police officer, a fireman, or a child under 15 years of age, the offense is a capital murder. Similarly, if the killing occurs during the commission or attempt of the following felonies: kidnapping, burglary, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction or retaliation, or terroristic threat it is a capital murder. There are several more ways a murder can become a capital murder. Learn more about capital murder versus murder in Texas.


Murder involves an allegation that a person intentionally or knowingly caused the death of another person. Learn more about murder in Texas.


Manslaughter is tied to the culpable mental state of recklessly. A person commits manslaughter if they recklessly cause the death of an individual. The intent in manslaughter is not that the accused intentionally or knowingly intended to cause another person’s death, but that the accused did something that you knew could have reasonably caused another person’s death, and that act constituted a gross deviation from what a normal, reasonable person would have done. Learn more about Manslaughter in Texas.

Criminally Negligent Homicide

Criminally negligent homicide is an allegation that a person acted negligently in the way that they did something they should have known was a gross deviation from what a reasonable person would have done and this act caused the death of an individual. Learn more about Criminally Negligent Homicide.

Homicide Defense

Our firm, and attorney Christy Jack, in particular, has an extensive background handling cases involving death. If you or a loved one has been arrested for a homicide in Texas, contact us at (817) 203-2220 or online:

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Benson Varghese

Managing Partner at Varghese Summersett PLLC
Benson Varghese is the founder and Managing Partner of Varghese Summersett PLLC. He is a prolific writer and has authored hundreds of articles about criminal law in Texas and at the Federal level. His articles have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Above the Law, and have been selected as Top Blogs by the State Bar of Texas. He was named the Young Lawyer of the Year in 2019 by the Tarrant County Bar Association. Benson led the firm to become one of the 500 fastest growing businesses in the United States by Inc 500 Magazine in 2018. In the same year, the firm was named the Best Law Firm in Fort Worth by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The lawyers at Varghese Summersett PLLC exclusively handle criminal defense matters.
Benson Varghese