Should a tragic accident automatically result in a crime?
So you weren't doing anything crazy. You weren't drinking and driving. You weren't speeding. You weren't even distracted by your phone. But you did fail to get new tires when you knew the ones you had were bald. Maybe you thought they weren't dangerous, but you should have known that they could be. Bald tires don't pass inspections for a reason. But then again, you had been driving with them for weeks without incident. All it took was that one rain shower. Maybe your car hydroplaned and you lost control, striking another vehicle and fatally wounding the driver. What you should have known could be dangerous is what can get you into serious trouble: a charge of criminally negligent homicide if someone dies as a result of your criminal negligence. It doesn't have to be in a car, but anywhere doing anything.
Criminally negligent homicide should not be confused with vehicular manslaughter. Vehicular manslaughter is similar to criminally negligent homicide because they both lack the intent to take another person's life. Vehicular manslaughter, however, carries with it penalties that are often more severe than criminally negligent homicide. The primary difference between the two can be found in mental culpability. Manslaughter usually suggests that the alleged person was reckless while criminal negligence usually means that the person failed to do something that a reasonable person should have known. To put it in other words, manslaughter is more about simply not caring about the well-being of others while criminal negligence is simply not understanding the gravity of the matter.
Even though the penalty for criminally negligent homicide is less than the penalty for vehicular manslaughter, for a law-abiding citizen to be charged with criminally negligent homicide, it's a tragic event and you still face prison time. In fact, the entire situation is tragic for all parties involved. One must live with the loss while the other must live with the guilt. That said, though you may feel guilty, it doesn't mean you are legally guilty. And that's what we, at Doug Murphy Law Firm, want you to understand: a charge does not equate to a guilty conviction. A charge is simply an unproven allegation, often based upon assumptions, not facts.
You should know, also, that Doug Murphy realizes that “to err is human,” and criminally negligent homicide represents this notion in the most unfortunate way. The difference between regular negligence and criminal negligence is vast and is discussed below. Doug Murphy understands this, so not only does he aggressively pursue your defense, he does it with compassion. With Doug Murphy, you can rest assured that he will fight to protect your rights and your freedom.
Criminally Negligent Homicide: How it Happens
The killing or causing the death of another person is always a serious matter, regardless of intent. In Texas, there is a spectrum of charges that can be applied in any given case where another person has been killed. On the one end of the spectrum is capital murder (the most serious offense) and on the other end of the spectrum is criminally negligent homicide. According to Texas Penal Code § 19.05, criminally negligent homicide is an act where a person causes the death of another person by criminal negligence. According to Texa Penal Code § 6.03(d),
A person acts with criminal negligence, or is criminally negligent, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor's standpoint.
Texas case law requires that criminal negligence entails a more culpable mental state than mere civil negligence. The distinction lies in the degree of deviation from an ordinary standard of care: conduct that constitutes criminal negligence involves a greater risk of harm to others than does simple negligence. The level of carelessness required for criminal negligence is appreciably more serious than that for ordinary civil negligence, and the carelessness must be such that its seriousness would be apparent to anyone who shares the community's general sense of right and wrong. To rise to the level of criminal negligence, the defendant's conduct must constitute more than a mere lack of foresight, stupidity, irresponsibility, thoughtlessness, or ordinary carelessness, however serious the consequences may happen to be. It must be of such a nature that a level of moral blameworthiness attaches.
With respect to criminally negligent homicide, this definition means that citizens of Texas are to act in a manner that does not put other people's lives in danger, even when the individual did not realize the act (or omission to act) could endanger the life of another person but other ordinary persons would have understood that the act (or omission to act) would endanger the life of another person.
For instance, a mother had a newborn baby. The mother's boyfriend is abusive toward the baby, and she knows it, but she must go to work and pay bills. As the abuse got worse, the mother confides in her friends, but still, she lets the boyfriend watch the baby when she goes to work. One fatal day, she comes home and the baby isn't crying. She never considered that the baby would die in her boyfriend's care, but she should have known it. He faces murder charges and she faces criminally negligent homicide. This mother:
- Intentionally -- even if she felt she had no other option -- left the baby in the care of a person she knowingly knew abused the baby;
- Created a dangerous situation by not finding another babysitting option; and
- Committed an act (or omitted to act) that directly led to the death of the baby.
On the other hand, had she been aware that leaving the baby in her boyfriend's care while she went to work would result in the baby's death and yet she did so anyway, she could be charged with manslaughter. In this sense, criminally negligent homicide happens when a person fails to be aware of the consequences of his or her omission to behave in a manner that an ordinary person would behave in the same situation. There is a fine line between guilty and not guilty, and a smart criminal defense attorney will find the line that leads to a not guilty verdict.
Criminally Negligent Homicide: How it's Prosecuted
If you are charged with criminally negligent homicide, the prosecution will try to establish liability. The prosecution will likely have to demonstrate the following elements to secure a conviction:
- Breach of duty. The defendant had a duty to prevent death and failed to do so.
- Causation. The defendant's actions or omissions to act directly caused the death.
- Risks. The defendant was aware that there were risks involved by acting or not acting in the manner he or she did.
Examples of criminally negligent homicide cases involving a motor vehicle include racing, running stop and yield signs at high speeds, driving in congested traffic at high speeds, or driving at high rate of speed such as driving 100 mph, or too fast for conditions.
Criminally Negligent Homicide: How to Defend against a Conviction?
Criminally negligent homicide is serious but with the right attorney and the right defense, you can beat a conviction. You should never assume you can't.
Finding the Right Lawyer in Houston TX
Criminally negligent homicide is a difficult case to defend, not because of facts or circumstances, but because of emotions. People's emotions are easily swayed. Just the same, jurors emotions are just as easily manipulated to favor the “victim.” But in some respects, you are a victim, too; you have your own story, and that story needs to be told with the jurors' perceptions of you kept in mind. Finding the right lawyer who has the capability to deliver a strong defense in a manner that best reflects you as a person and not as a criminal who deserves to be punished is key to your overall criminal defense strategy.
Doug Murphy is that lawyer, and he has built a reputation on it.
Many lawyers say they are “experienced,” but Doug Murphy has gone one step further: he's proven it. He is certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization as a Criminal Defense lawyer. To acquire this specialization, a lawyer must have at least five years experience with 3 of those years substantially dedicated to criminal defense; provide documentation of his or her experience; provide at least 10 qualified references for peer evaluations; and, among other things, pass a rigorous exam.
This is no small fête. There are 20 specializations provided and certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. And only 7% of all of Texas' lawyers have been certified under one of these legal specializations. Doug Murphy is one of them. Testifying to his capabilities, he is also Board-certified in DUI defense, and only one other attorney in Texas holds the same distinction: board certifications in both criminal defense and DUI.
Developing a Criminal Defense Strategy in Houston TX
Each case is different and unique. The first step to any good criminal defense is the investigative part. We need to know the facts, and once we have all the facts, we begin to build a defense around them. The most important part of our strategy is a multi-fold approach; we use every angle we can to either discredit, deny or poke holes into the prosecution's arguments. Some of the strategies we may incorporate into our defense specific to criminally negligent homicide include the following:
- Causation. Did your actions or omission to act cause in any way the death of the other person. Maybe the victim would have died regardless of your actions or omissions to act, thus, maybe there was another direct cause of death. If your actions or omissions were not a cause of the death, then there is no case.
- Causation and Risk. Maybe your action or omission caused the death, but maybe you have done these acts or omissions - none of which is illegal -- in the past and no one was affected by it, thus, you did not create an unreasonable risk. Was the risk substantial and unjustifiable? If not, then the jury may not find you guilty.
- Absence of “gross deviation.” Did you fail to understand how your behavior was a gross deviation from what a reasonable person would have understood it to be? Was it actually a gross deviation? First, we will show the act was an accident. Second, the accident was not your fault. Third, demonstrate that a reasonable person would not have acted differently if in the same position as you. If so, then there wasn't any “gross deviation.”
Criminally Negligent Homicide: What are the consequences?
Without the right attorney and a strategic criminal defense, you will likely suffer the consequences for it. These consequences go beyond jail time and fees, they will impact the quality of your life for the rest of your life. Criminally negligent homicide is a state jail felony. If you are convicted, you can be sentenced between 180 days and two years. You can also be fined up to $10,000. Probation and community service can also be a part of your sentence, but you will not be eligible for parole.
Apart from your court-ordered sentence, if convicted, you will face other consequences that will impact your day-to-day life once outside of jail. These consequences may include any of the following:
- Inability to hold public office
- Difficulty finding jobs
- Difficulty attending school or receiving financial aid
- Difficulty obtaining housing if you are a renter
- Difficulty with child visitations or custody, if separated or divorced with children
- Difficulty repairing your reputation, which to a good law-abiding citizen, often matters a great deal.
As you can see, a criminally negligent homicide case must be fought at all costs, but it must be done with the right attorney who can build a comprehensive defense strategy and implement it successfully on your behalf.
Criminally Negligent Homicide Lawyer in Houston, Texas
At Doug Murphy Law Firm, we devote our resources and capabilities to DWI and criminal defense cases. We have decades of proven experience and a reputation earned in the courtroom for successful results. Contact Doug Murphy today to discuss the circumstances of your case.