The Texas statutes use the term “criminal homicide” to encompass murder, capital murder, manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide. Criminal homicide essentially refers to knowingly, recklessly, or negligently causing the death of a person. While all terms fall under criminal homicide, each crime has slightly different connotations and can result in different sentences. If you’re facing any charges related to criminal homicide, you may want to familiarize yourself with the details.


A person can be charged with murder if they:

  • Knowingly and intentionally caused the death of another person.
  • Performed a dangerous act that causes the death of another person. The dangerous act is one that is known to be fatal, and the person must have performed it with the intent to cause the death of another person.
  • Performed a dangerous act that causes the death of another person at the same time they are committing or attempting to commit a separate felony, or while they are attempting to flee the scene where they had committed the felony.

Murder is a 1st-degree felony charge, which means the court can sentence you to state prison for 5 up to 99 years or fine you up to $10,000, or both. But it is possible to get a lesser charge if the crime was committed in “sudden passion.” Sudden passion means the person who was killed provoked the person accused, and the person accused acted on behalf of their emotions, not with any practical thought. It’s important to note that the “lesser charge” in this case is a 2nd-degree felony, which carries a fine of up to $10,000 or a prison sentence of 2 up to 20 years, or both.     

Capital Murder

Capital murder is intentionally taking a life:

  • With the knowledge that the person killed is a police officer or firefighter;
  • While also committing one of the following crimes: kidnapping, burglary, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, arson, retaliation, or terrorist threat;
  • In exchange for money or goods;
  • While attempting to escape prison;
  • While in prison on a separate criminal homicide conviction or while serving a prison term of 99 years or life;
  • In retaliation against a judge in any court; or
  • With the knowledge that the person killed is under 10 years old.

You can also be convicted of capital murder if you kill more than one person at the same time.

Capital murder is a capital felony. It is punishable by death via lethal injection or a life term in prison without the possibility of parole. In some cases, if a judge does not believe capital murder was proved beyond a reasonable doubt, that judge may decide to downgrade the charge to a lower felony offense.


Manslaughter, while still very serious, carries a slightly lesser charge. A person commits manslaughter when their reckless actions cause the death of another person. What makes manslaughter different than murder in the intent – in a murder case, the person accused intended to kill the deceased. In manslaughter, the person accused did cause the death, but their actions were more accidental, not intentional.

A manslaughter conviction results in a 2nd-degree felony punishment.

Criminally Negligent Homicide

Like manslaughter, a charge of criminally negligent homicide is less serious than murder. But while manslaughter pertains more to reckless actions, criminally negligent homicide is defined by carelessness. Essentially, in Texas, you must conduct yourself and your business in a way that does not bring harm to others. If you neglect to do so, you could be charged with a crime.

A simple example of criminally negligent homicide would be a person who is hired to construct a second story wood patio on a person’s home. The patio is done in a hurried fashion: the builder does not bother to check the code requirements and fails to use proper safety precautions. The customer steps out onto the patio, and it collapses; consequently, he falls and does not survive his fall. While the builder did not intend to kill the customer, they neglected to do their job safely and thoroughly, even though they knew the potential consequences of failing to do so.

Punishment for criminally negligent homicide is a state jail felony. This charge carries a fine of up to $10,000, or a term in state jail for 180 days up to 2 years, or both.

To Prove Murder, You Must Prove Intent

In a murder case, prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person who committed the act did so with every intention of ending the other person’s life. While this seems pretty straightforward, it’s not always easy to prove. That’s because murder may not be a cut-and-dry charge.

Say for example, you are being assaulted by someone. The person assaulting you has brandished a gun and has threatened to shoot you, and you believe they will do so as soon as they get the chance. Instead, you struggle, wind up with the gun, and shoot and kill them. Because you intended to kill them before they could kill you, the question remains: Is it murder or self-defense?

Self-defense is one justification for murder. Others may include:

  • The person accused has a mental impairment and is unable to comprehend the severity of the act.
  • The person accused simply did not intend to kill the other person.
  • The person accused was either temporarily or permanently insane when the act was committed.


Contact a Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer

The state of Texas is very serious about murder charges. The court systems will not hesitate to bring harsh sentences against anyone they believe committed murder. These sentences can even include death of the person convicted.

If you’ve been charged with any form of criminal homicide, you are going to need to have someone on your side. It may be in your best interest to contact a criminal defense lawyer to take over your case. Experienced criminal defense attorneys like the team at Tress Law Firm have a vast knowledge of the state laws. Not only does this proficiency help us develop an excellent defense for your case; it also allows us to closely follow the state’s treatment of you to ensure your rights are not being compromised. At Tress Law Firm, we treat every case with precise attention to detail and we make sure our clients are treated in accordance with the law. To speak with an attorney about your case, call us today.