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 you thought about killing someone 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 you plan for weeks to murder another person, or whether or not you did it after you got into an unexpected argument and did it on spur of the moment, you will likely still be charged with the same offense in Texas. In other states, the charges might be different based on your premeditation.
Similarly, while motive may be a great contextual fact, motive is not an element of a crime under the homicide umbrella in Texas.
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. If you cause the death of one person in the course of committing a felony, you can only be charged with one count of murder. However, at your trial, if permitted by the judge, the jury upon hearing the evidence may decide to convict you 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 you’re charged with. In this case, you can’t be found guilty of capital murder by the jury. They can’t go up the ladder, only down.
Murder involves an allegation that a person intentionally or knowingly caused the death of another person. Learn more about murder in Texas.
Murder becomes capital murder under certain circumstances. For instance, if the victim was a police officer, a fireman, or a child under 10 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.
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.
Our firm, and 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: