Manslaughter: Texas Penalties for Killing Somebody
There are several forms of criminal homicide in the state of Texas, but the punishment is severe in each and every case. If the prosecutor can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were criminally negligent or knowingly, intentionally or recklessly caused the death of another party, you can be sent to prison for a long time.
Chapter 19 of the Texas Penal Code specifies the legal definitions and range of penalties for the following forms of criminal homicide:
- Murder – Intentionally causing the death of another person or inflicting bodily injuries that result in death
- Capital Murder – Causing the death of a person for money, the promise of money or other aggravating circumstance
- Manslaughter – Causing the death of another party by reckless action or failure to act
Since the state of Texas doesn’t officially distinguish between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter; manslaughter cases are often confusing and subjective. To be convicted of manslaughter, it must be shown that a defendant caused the death of another party by acting in a reckless manner. The prosecutor does not have to prove an element of intent, knowledge or premeditation to obtain a manslaughter conviction.
There are different kinds of manslaughter charges in Texas. Intoxicated manslaughter charges, for example, are typically filed when a defendant causes the death of another person by acting recklessly while intoxicated. Similarly, vehicular manslaughter charges are appropriate when a defendant recklessly causes the death of another party while operating a vehicle or vessel.
Manslaughter is a 2nd degree felony in Texas. Depending on the nature of the crime and the previous criminal record of the defendant, a manslaughter conviction is punishable by a prison sentence of between two and 20 years and a maximum fine of $10,000.
A felony conviction can also limit a defendant’s future opportunities in life, including access to employment, housing and education programs. A felony conviction can also prevent a defendant from owning a firearm or voting in state and local elections.
As mentioned previously, a manslaughter charge may contain elements that are subjective in nature. The development of an effective defense strategy is crucial in a manslaughter case. Some of the more common manslaughter defense strategies are as follows:
- Insanity defense
- Self defense
- Heat of passion defense
A heat of passion defense strategy is often used to convince a jury that the defendant acted due to the presence of terror, rage, fear or another extreme emotion. A prosecutor or jury may choose to opt for a manslaughter charge when the circumstances surrounding a criminal homicide do not seem to justify a murder conviction. The evidence may be inadequate to determine the intention of the defendant when the crime was committed.