Murder in Texas is defined by Texas Penal Code Section 19.02. To secure a conviction for this charge, the State must prove either:
- that the defendant intentionally or knowingly caused the death of an individual;
- that the defendant intended to cause serious bodily injury and committed an act clearly dangerous to human life that caused the death of the individual; or
- that the defendant committed or attempted to commit a felony, other than manslaughter and committed an act clearly dangerous to human life that caused the death of the individual.
Murder is a first-degree felony that carries a punishment range of five to ninety-nine years’, or life, incarceration. The defendant will eventually be eligible for parole regardless of what specific sentence they receive.
However, the defendant does have the ability to lower the punishment range after being found guilty. At the punishment stage of trial, the defendant may argue that the death was caused while they were under the immediate influence of a sudden passion arising from an adequate cause. Essentially, the defendant must prove that they were, rightfully, blinded by rage or some other emotion thereby partially excusing their conduct. If the jury agrees, the charge is lowered to a second-degree felony with a punishment range of two to twenty years’ incarceration.
Texas Penal Code Section 19.03 covers capital murder. It provides, first, that the State must prove a murder as defined under Section 19.02(b)(1). This requires that the State must initially prove that the defendant intentionally or knowingly caused the death of an individual beyond a reasonable doubt. The State must then also prove one, or more, of the following theories in order to secure a conviction for capital murder:
- that the defendant knowingly killed a law enforcement officer or fireman lawfully discharging their official duties or a Texas judge in retaliation for their ruling;
- that the defendant committed the murder in the course of committing or attempting to commit kidnapping, burglary, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction or retaliation, or terroristic threat;
- that the defendant committed the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration or employs another to commit the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration (murder-for-hire);
- that the defendant committed the murder while in or escaping or attempting to escape from prison;
- that the defendant murdered more than one person in the same criminal transaction or pursuant to the same scheme or course of conduct; or
- that the decedent was under the age of fifteen at the time of the murder.
Capital murder carries a punishment of either death or life without parole if the defendant was over the age of eighteen at the time the offense was committed. If the defendant was under the age of eighteen at the time, then the punishment becomes an automatic life sentence with the possibility of parole.
Finally, there are the charges of Manslaughter and Criminally Negligent Homicide. Both require the killing of another, but neither requires that the defendant was intentional in his conduct. For manslaughter, the standard is recklessness, and for criminally negligent homicide the standard is criminal negligence. Essentially, these charges are designed to cover instances where a defendant caused the death of another by accident or mistake.
Manslaughter is a second-degree felony with a punishment range of two to twenty years’ incarceration. Criminally Negligent Homicide is a state jail felony with a punishment range of six months to two years’ incarceration in a state jail facility.