Murder Vs. Capital Murder in Texas

Murder vs capital murder in Texas

Like many people, you may think of murder as simply the unlawful killing of a person or persons. While this is perfectly okay for us to say informally,  the law in Texas has various classification depending on how the murder happened. 

Texas law categorizes murders into four groups; murder, capital murder, criminally negligent homicide, and, manslaughter. 

As you can see, “murder” and “capital murder” refer to two separate crimes. And for this reason, they attract different penalties. 

Under what circumstances is a crime classified as a murder in Texas?

The Texas penal code 19.02 outlines three special issues prosecutors should identify in an unlawful killing to classify it as a “murder.” 

1. Did the person responsible for the killing intentionally carry out actions leading to the death of the deceased?

2. Did this individual perform a violent or dangerous act with the aim of causing severe bodily harm to the deceased, in order to kill them?

3. Did the person responsible for a murder victim’s death commit a violent act against the deceased in the cause of committing a felony or escaping from a crime scene after committing a felony?

What is a capital murder in Texas?

According to Texas Penal Code 19.03, an unlawful killing is classified as capital murder if the perpetrator kills;

1. A police officer or fireman, as they lawfully discharge their duties with full knowledge that they are officers of the law.

2. A judge of the various courts in the US in retaliation for their service to the courts as a justice or judge.

3. An employee of a prison institution where the accused is lawfully detained, either while in incarceration or when trying to escape it.

4. An individual in a penal institution to make a profit from the killing in a murder-for-hire situation.

5. An innocent citizen of the state for immediate monetary compensation or a promise of future financial remuneration.

6. A person or persons in an establishment where the accused intentionally commits or attempts to commit a crime such as aggravated assault, burglary, terrorism, or arson.

7. A minor under the age of ten years.

8. A minor between the ages of ten and fifteen years old.

These are the elements  that Texas prosecutors look for before filing a capital murder case against an accused person or persons.

Murder vs. capital murder in Texas

The penalties for committing a “murder” and a “capital murder” in Texas 

The penalties for murder and capital murder in Texas are dire. You should know and understand how the courts view these two crimes to understand these penalties.

A simple murder is referred to as a second-degree murder. A capital murder is referred to as a first-degree murder.

A second-degree murder in Texas is charged as a first-degree felony. This attracts a sentence of 5 – 99 years unless you can prove that you murdered someone in a crime of passion

In cases where you commit the murderous act is committed in the sudden heat of passion, you are charged as a second-degree felony. This attracts a fine of up to $10,000 and a sentence of 2 -20 years. 

How does capital murder differ from murder? Capital murder carries a harsher sentence than second-degree murder.

Additionally, a jury receives special issues to help them make decisions that result in the proper judgment in a  second-degree murder case. However, juries do not need them to pass judgment in a Texas capital murder trial.

What is the penalty for capital murder in Texas?

The minimum sentence for capital murder in Texas is life imprisonment without parole.

Texas is also one of the 27 states in the US that allow the courts to impose the death penalty as punishment for capital murder.

Only individuals over 18 years found guilty of committing capital murder in Texas may receive this sentence.

Sometimes, prosecutors may charge perpetrators of a killing with murder because they lack enough evidence. This is to scare defendants into pleading guilty to a lesser crime, such as manslaughter. 

You may be in such a situation, feeling tempted to accept a plea bargain and get your troubles with the law out of the way. 

That’s the wrong route to take; talk to a reputable lawyer first to get advice on how to handle any murder charges brought against you.

The sooner you do it, the better to increase your chances of getting a favorable verdict and keep you from spending a lifetime in prison.

Why are the penalties for capital murder so severe?

Capital murder attracts the severest penalty in Texas because of the nature of the crime. The acts leading to these capital murders, such as aggravated sexual assault and terrorist acts, are pretty gruesome. 

Law officers, court officers, and firefighters and other officers of the state are very prone to murder. Often, these crimes happen as they perform their lawful duty on behalf of the state, or as retaliation for the duties they have previously carried out.

The jury considers three elements when deciding on a verdict, based on the evidence in their possession. 

1. Is there a probability that the defendant will commit violent criminal acts that threaten members of society if set free?

2. What was the perpetrator’s intention while committing the murder? Did they intend to kill the victim, knowingly kill the victim, or involve themselves in criminal actions such as committing a felony or inflicting severe bodily harm, thereby causing their death?

3. If the answer to these two questions is “yes,” the jury must then examine the defendant’s history, character, and moral makeup, to determine the type of person they are.

Capital murder by minors in Texas

What happens when a minor under the age of 18 commits capital murder?  

Well, it depends on their age. 

Texas law does not allow young people under 14 who commit capital murder to stand trial as adults.

According to societal norms, and the opinions of legal or medical experts, young people below the age of 14 are not mentally mature enough. Therefore, they do not fully understand the consequences of their actions. 

Experts believe impulse control has not developed sufficiently during their adolescence years.

Juveniles who commit capital murder in Texas do not receive the same sentencing as young people below age 14 who commit the same crime. 

Who are juveniles according to Texas law? 

According to Texas Family Code 54.02, you must be between 14 -17 years of age when you commit and are charged with a serious offense such as capital murder, to be called a juvenile.

Can juveniles be sentenced to death or life imprisonment for committing murder?

The courts in the US are prohibited from sentencing juveniles to death or life imprisonment without parole. This is due to a 2005 supreme court ruling in Roper v. Simmons that banned juvenile capital punishment. 

Therefore, prosecutors can only seek determinate sentencing in juvenile capital murder cases. This happens in front of a grand jury where prosecutors can ask the jury to sentence the juveniles to up to 40 years of prison time.

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) puts you through rehabilitation until you reach the age of 19.

After this, they move to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) as adults charged with capital murder. 

Final thoughts on murder vs. capital murder in Texas

As you can see from our exploration of murder and capital, it can be very tricky to navigate the Texas justice system alone. Seek immediate help from a reputable criminal defense attorney if you face charges of murder or capital murder. This could determine whether or not you get the death penalty or spend the rest of your life in prison.

Patty Tress is an experienced and reputable criminal defense attorney based in Denton, Texas. Patty serves most counties in Northern Texas. Give her a call today on 972-325-17589.

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