Manslaughter is a form of criminal homicide in Texas, and the punishment for a conviction is severe. Understanding the charge against you -- including what the prosecutor must prove and what the penalties are if convicted -- and finding the right attorney is important if you want to defeat a manslaughter charge.
Manslaughter as Defined in Texas Law
(a) A person commits criminal homicide if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence causes the death of an individual.
(b) Criminal homicide is murder, capital murder, manslaughter, or criminally negligent homicide.
Knowing the elements of manslaughter and how it is distinguished from the other types of criminal homicide is helpful in understanding the extent of the charge laid against you.
The Elements of Manslaughter
Section 19.04 of the Texas Penal Code defines manslaughter as an offense a person commits when he or she “recklessly causes the death of an individual”.
In Texas, the key to a manslaughter charge is if the death was caused by your reckless behavior. Reckless is one step above negligent and one step below intentional. Thus, you must have acted in a way that was more than negligence but not to the extent you specifically intended the end result, but for your actions, that end result was conceivable. Reckless acts materialize in two ways: an actual act or the failure to act.
In Texas, unlike most other states, manslaughter is not divided into two manslaughter crimes: voluntary and involuntary. But Texas does have two additional manslaughter offenses, one of which no other state has.
Texas is the only state to have an Intoxication Manslaughter offense, where a death is caused by a person who is intoxicated with either alcohol or drugs. Most often this offense is associated with impaired drivers. Vehicular Manslaughter is another manslaughter offense where charges can be brought if a person recklessly operated a vehicle or vessel and caused the death of another person.
In some instances, if the victim of the recklessness is a peace officer, firefighter, or emergency medical personnel, the prison sentence range could increase by five to 99 years.
Manslaughter Distinguished from Other Criminal Homicides
According to Chapter 19 of the Penal Code, the other two types of criminal homicide are murder and capital murder. To prove murder, the offender's intent to cause the death of another person or to inflict bodily injuries that could result in death is the required element. To prove capital murder, the alleged offender must have committed murder in the presence of an aggravating factor, like murder of a peace officer or fireman, murder while committing another offense like kidnapping or rape, murder for monetary compensation. In both murder offenses, the State has the burden to prove intent. In a manslaughter case, the State does not have to prove intent.
Manslaughter Penalties in Texas
A conviction of manslaughter is a Second Degree Felony. The circumstances and prior convictions will inform the sentencing process. As such, you could face a minimum of two years in prison or up to 20 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000.
As a felon, your future is in jeopardy. If you have a career, it could be over. If you search for a job after you complete your debt to society, you could find it hard to get an interview. If you are a gun owner, your right to own and use a gun will be taken from you. If you enjoy participating as a citizen and voting for your representatives -- people who may have a direct impact on your well-being and quality of life -- you will be denied voting privileges. You could also find it hard to find housing in a safe area. You will also -- if you had joint custody of a child before a conviction -- find it difficult to regain custody.
Your freedom and bank account are not the only things at risk; your entire future is at risk. An aggressive, comprehensive defense may be your only option to secure your future.
A viable defense that works to defeat the manslaughter charge is dependent on the attorney you hire. Qualities to look for in a criminal defense lawyer are threefold: (1) extensive trial experience; (2) acceptance by the criminal legal community; and (3) positive client testimonials.
Doug Murphy has extensive trial experience spanning the last two decades. His case results provide a window into the extent of that experience. He also is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Only seven percent of all lawyers in Texas are certified by this Board in 22 different specializations. To be Board Certified in criminal defense, a lawyer must pass rigorous oral and written exams, have substantial experience in the specialized area, including trial experience, and must be re-examined yearly. Maintaining this status shows dedication to the practice of criminal defense, and Doug Murphy has held this status for years.
Doug Murphy is also recognized by the legal community for his capabilities. He is regularly invited to speak at various conferences in Texas and throughout the U.S. He is also the recipient of a number of professional accolades that recognize his criminal defense skills.
Finally, Doug Murphy has been representing clients in Houston and throughout the Houston metropolitan area, including people in the counties of Austin, Brazoria, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Fort Bend, Liberty, Matagorda, Montgomery, and Waller. Many of these clients have taken the time to provide feedback via client testimonials.
Doug Murphy approaches each case from different angles and incorporates defenses and strategies as appropriate. Possible defenses include insanity defense, self-defense, and heat of passion defense.
The Insanity Defense
The insanity defense is an affirmative defense where a defendant essentially admits that he or she committed the alleged offense -- in this case manslaughter -- but argues that he or she should not be held criminally responsible due to insanity. In the Texas Penal Code § 8.01, evidence must be provided that you as the defendant have a “mental disease or defect” that caused you to be incapable of knowing that the conduct was wrong. In Texas, to prove you were incapable of knowing right from wrong, it must be shown that you were in an “extreme delusional state that caused [you] to misperceive the very nature of [your] acts, or to believe that in acting, [you] were obeying rather than violating the laws of society.” Rubio v. State, 241 S.W.3d 1, 13 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007).
There are many opinions about the insanity defense, and if it could possibly apply in your case, your experienced criminal defense lawyer will review all possibilities and options with you. Keep in mind, as an affirmative defense, the burden is on the defense team to prove insanity.
Self defense is a viable defense, and in Texas, there is what is known as the Stand Your Ground law. If you are a homeowner, you have no duty to retreat if in the home or elsewhere before you can use deadly force against another person in self-defense. But there are limits to this defense: you must be at a place legally (home, work, or car); you must not have provoked the confrontation; and you must be in reasonable fear of your life.
What the defendant believed and intended are central to a self-defense claim; the victim's actions, beliefs, or intentions are not the focus. According to Texas Penal Code § 9.31(b)(1), verbal provocation alone is not enough to justify the use of force against another person. According to § 9.31(b)(3), if you consented to the victim's use of force or attempted use of force then it, too, is not justification for self-defense.
Your criminal defense attorney will review your case with you and determine if self-defense applies. If the evidence suggests that it does, then the prosecution has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were not acting in self-defense.
Heat of passion is just that: a response motivated by immediate and intense emotion. In Texas, this defense is often used to persuade a jury that you responded the way you did due to some extreme rage or fear. The key to this defense is the presence of adequate provocation. The situation must be such that a reasonable person in the passion of the moment naturally responded to the situation. The crime must have occurred almost immediately with no cooling off period. Additionally, when not provoked by the situation, you must not have previously attempted or conspired to commit the same act.
This type of defense is difficult to prove and is usually used in cases of murder as a means to reduce the charge to manslaughter. It can also be used as a mitigating factor if convicted of murder or manslaughter. In Texas, like elsewhere, the State recognizes the difference between premeditated murder and manslaughter as a response to immediate intense rage or fear, and sentences can reflect the same so that the punishment fits the crime.
Aside from these three defenses, Doug Murphy will work to weaken the State's case against you. He understands the court, the prosecutor's tactics, the judge's proclivities, and the jury's mindset, and he uses this insight to help you. As in any criminal defense case, the prosecutor must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and Doug Murphy endeavors to insert that doubt in the hearts of all jurors.
Manslaughter Criminal Defense Lawyer in Houston TX
If you have been charged with recklessly taking the life of another person, you need a criminal defense lawyer who strategizes and presents your case in your best interests. Doug Murphy lays it out for you: the strategies, the expectations, and the facts. From there, he aggressively defends your name and your rights before a judge and jury. Only when it is beneficial to you and not the State, will Doug Murphy consider a plea deal.
From his twenty years of experience in criminal defense, he knows that his clients almost always stand a better chance going before their peers as jurors rather than settling the case with the State. Your case is no different -- he knows your life is literally on the line in a manslaughter case, and will aggressively advocate your side of the story before the jury. Contact Doug Murphy today, either online or at 713-229-8333.