Will Causing Multiple Deaths Result in Capital Murder Charges?
A person who intentionally or knowingly kills more than one individual during a single course of criminal conduct is guilty of capital murder. A person facing capital murder charges may face the death penalty. The State (meaning the local district attorney) will make a decision as to whether prosecutors will seeks the death penalty. If the State seeks the death penalty, and the individual is found guilty, the jury will decide whether or not to impose the death penalty. Only a jury can render a verdict of death.
Can Capital Murder be Charged as a Hate Crime?
Chapter 411.046 of the Texas Government Code defenses hate crimes for reporting purposes in Texas. A hate crime is one that is motivated by prejudice, hatred, or advocacy of violence. That finding does not impact sentencing.
For limited offenses, the Code of Criminal Procedure provides for an enhancement of one level if an offense was committed "because of the defendant's bias or prejudice against a group identified by race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference or by status as a peace officer or judge."
There's no sentencing enhancement in the state system for capital murder based on the offense qualifying as a hate crime. Article 42.014, Code of Criminal Procedure does not allow for a sentencing enhancement other than for arson, graffiti, a criminal mischief.
18 USC 249 is the federal Hate Crime statute. 18 USC 249 (a)(1) covers willfully causing bodily injury or death "because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin" of the victim(s). The federal murder statute is 18 USC 1111 and would cover when a person malice aforethought, unlawfully killed victims with the firearm. A person convicted for first degree murder can receive the death penalty. In capital cases, the decision to seek the death penalty rests with the Attorney General. 18 USC 3591 sets forth instances when a person can be sentenced to death in the federal system.
Federal prosecutors rarely seek the death penalty, but did seek the death penalty for Dylann S. Roof, the white supremacist who shot and killed nine African-American churchgoers in 2015.
Insanity as a Defense to Capital Murder
Insanity is a very difficult defense to raise successfully in Texas.
"The insanity defense and the requirements to raise the defense is codified in Texas Penal Code Section 8.01.
(a) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution that, at the time of the conduct charged, the actor, as a result of severe mental disease or defect, did not know that his conduct was wrong.
(b) The term “mental disease or defect” does not include an abnormality manifested only by repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct."
In the federal system, insanity can be raised the defendant as an affirmative defense that the defense would have to prove by a preponderance of evidence pursuant to 18 USC 17. The defendant would have to prove a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts.
Capital Murder versus Murder in Texas
Both murder and capital murder are classified as criminal homicide under Texas law. The two most important distinctions between murder and capital murder are: (1) the way each offense is alleged and (2) the punishment that each offense carries.
What is Murder in Texas?
Pursuant to Penal Code § 19.02(b)(1) there are three ways murder may be alleged. A person commits murder when:
- The person intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual;
- The person intends to cause serious bodily injury and commits an act that causes the death of an individual; or
- The person causes the death of an individual during the commission or attempted commission of a felony.
What is Capital Murder in Texas?
Murder is elevated to a capital offense when the murder occurs under specific circumstances. Pursuant to Penal Code § 19.03(a), a person commits capital murder if he commits murder as defined above and:
- The individual killed is a peace officer or fireman in the line of duty and the person knows the individual is a peace officer or fireman;
- The killing occurs during the commission or attempt of the following felonies: kidnapping, burglary, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction or retaliation, or terroristic threat;
- The killing was committed for payment or promise of payment. Both the person who kills another and the person who hires a person to kill are guilty of capital murder;
- The killing occurs during the escape, whether successful or not, from a penal institution;
- The individual killed is an employee of a penal institution and the killing is committed by an incarcerated person;
- The killing is committed by an incarcerated person in conjunction with organized criminal activity;
- The killing is committed by a person incarcerated for murder or capital murder;
- The killing is committed by a person incarcerated for the following aggravated felonies: aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, or aggravated robbery;
- The person kills more than one individual either during the same criminal transaction or during different transactions but under a common scheme;
- The person killed is under 10 years old; or
- The individual killed was a judge or justice and the killing was committed in retaliation or on account of the judge or justice’s service.
What is Capital Murder - Terror/Fel in Texas?
A person accused of causing the death of another while in the commission or attempted commission of kidnapping, robbery, burglary, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction or retaliation, or terroristic threat is charged with Capital Murder under Penal Code Section 19.03. This charge is often abbreviated as "Capital Murder - Terror/Fel."
What is the punishment for Murder?
Generally, a defendant guilty of murder may be sentenced to imprisonment for life or a term of anywhere from five years to 99 years. In addition to imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000 may be imposed.
What is the punishment for Capital Murder?
Capital murder, on the other hand, carries a penalty of life imprisonment or death.
What are the special issues in a Capital Murder case in Texas?
Code of Criminal Procedure Article 37.071(2) provides the jury must decide two special issues; future danger and:
(b) On conclusion of the presentation of the evidence, the court shall submit the following issues to the jury:
- whether there is a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society; and
- whether, taking into consideration all of the evidence, including the circumstances of the offense, the defendant’s character and background, and the personal moral culpability of the defendant, there is a sufficient mitigating circumstance or circumstances to warrant that a sentence of life imprisonment without parole rather than a death sentence be imposed.
What are the additional special issues in a Capital Murder case in Texas?
In Capital Murder cases in which the jury charge at the guilt or innocence stage permitted the jury to find the defendant guilty as a party under Sections 7.01 and 7.02, Penal Code, the special issues are:
- whether the defendant actually caused the death of the deceased;
- if the defendant did not actually cause the death of the deceased but intended to kill the deceased or another;
- if the defendant did not actually cause the death of the deceased but anticipated that a human life would be taken.
Can someone who is guilty of murder be punished for a Second Degree Offense?
Yes. Penal Code Section 19.02(d) provides that once a defendant is found guilty of murder, he may prove that his actions occurred under certain circumstances that entitle him to a lesser degree of punishment. He must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he caused the death under the immediate influence of sudden passion arising from an adequate cause. Under the circumstances, the defendant must have been provoked in such a way that an ordinary person in similar circumstances would have reacted similarly. The defense must show there was no time to cool down, and the defendant did not, in fact, cool down.
Further, the killing must occur under the influence of “sudden passion.” That is, the situation that provoked the defendant’s anger directly caused the defendant to react in the heat of the moment. The killing cannot be based on provocation that occurred before the time of the incident. Penal Code § 19.02(a)(2). If the defendant is able to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the above circumstances existed, the offense becomes a felony of the second degree. Penal Code § 19.02(d).
A defendant guilty of murder in the first degree will be imprisoned for either life or anywhere from 5 to 99 years. Additionally, the court may impose a fine of up to $10,000.
A defendant guilty of murder in the second degree will be imprisoned for anywhere from 2 to 20 years. A fine of up to $10,000 may also be imposed.
Capital murder—a capital felony—carries a more severe penalty than murder does. Texas is one of 31 states that allows for the death penalty to be imposed as capital punishment for capital felonies.
The state has the option to seek the death penalty. Under Penal Code Section 12.31, if the state seeks the death penalty, the mandatory punishment is either life without parole or death. Penal Code § 12.31(b).
If the state does not seek the death penalty, the mandatory punishment depends on the defendant’s age at the time of the offense. If the defendant was younger than 18 years of age at the time the offense was committed, the mandatory punishment is life. Penal Code § 12.31(b)(1). For offenses committed when the defendant was 18 or older, the defendant faces life without parole. Penal Code § 12.31(b)(2).
I was arrested for murder on March 27, 2014 I received a court-appointed attorney whose name I won’t discuss. She was no good for me never made communication or put forth the effort to help me. Then a blessing came I received Joetta Keene and Christie Jack. Two of the best lawyers I’ve ever witnessed. They are amazing watching them work left me in awe. I would not want to be on the wrong end of an argument with these ladies. Christie is so soft spoken, but the woman sure can make people tremble in their seat. I was nervous for the opposition. She grilled them good. As far as communication goes this woman did more for me in 2 months than my previous Lawyer did in 2 years this speaks volumes to her work ethic. She prepared for a murder trial at such a short notice. When we got the not guilty verdict. It was the right verdict but it was a well-deserved win for this nice lady. Very compassionate, I will forever recommend Mrs. Jack to anyone with legal troubles. One of the best in Texas. No Mrs. Jack was the blessing I needed and as a court appointed attorney she did high-class work. I'm forever grateful.
A. Jones. (Former Client)
Penal Code Section 19.03 CAPITAL MURDER
(a) A person commits an offense if the person commits murder as defined under Section 19.02(b)(1) and:
(1) the person murders a peace officer or fireman who is acting in the lawful discharge of an official duty and who the person knows is a peace officer or fireman;
(2) the person intentionally commits the murder in the course of committing or attempting to commit kidnapping, burglary, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction or retaliation, or terroristic threat under Section 22.07(a)(1), (3), (4), (5), or (6);
(3) the person commits the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration or employs another to commit the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration;
(4) the person commits the murder while escaping or attempting to escape from a penal institution;
(5) the person, while incarcerated in a penal institution, murders another:(A) who is employed in the operation of the penal institution; or(B) with the intent to establish, maintain, or participate in a combination or in the profits of a combination;
(6) the person:(A) while incarcerated for an offense under this section or Section 19.02, murders another; or(B) while serving a sentence of life imprisonment or a term of 99 years for an offense under Section 20.04, 22.021, or 29.03, murders another;
(7) the person murders more than one person:(A) during the same criminal transaction; or(B) during different criminal transactions but the murders are committed pursuant to the same scheme or course of conduct;
(8) the person murders an individual under 10 years of age; or
(9) the person murders another person in retaliation for or on account of the service or status of the other person as a judge or justice of the supreme court, the court of criminal appeals, a court of appeals, a district court, a criminal district court, a constitutional county court, a statutory county court, a justice court, or a municipal court.(b) An offense under this section is a capital felony.(c) If the jury or, when authorized by law, the judge does not find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of an offense under this section, he may be convicted of murder or of any other lesser included offense.
In addition to death penalty cases, Christy Jack has tried numerous capital-waiver cases and homicides where the individuals accused were facing life sentences. She has also served as lead counsel on dozens of jury trials for aggravated felony charges and sexual assault offenses.
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