Intoxication manslaughter is a giant human tragedy on both sides. Intoxication manslaughter is a charge that literally and figuratively changes the lives of people involved and their families. It is astonishingly shocking and stressful nightmare for all involved. And then comes the daunting legal process sorting out of causation, intoxication, and appropriate punishment.
An accomplished, experienced and knowledgeable board certified DWI attorney is immediately needed to properly investigate your case. A knowledgable and experienced criminal defense lawyer is key to properly navigating the legal complexity of an intoxication manslaughter charge. This page is meant to provide an overview of intoxication manslaughter in the state of Texas, however, this information cannot replace the counsel and advisement of a skilled attorney who well-versed in Texas manslaughter law. If you have been charged with intoxication manslaughter in Texas, it is imperative that you seek and consult with an attorney sooner rather than later. Contact Doug Murphy now to discuss your case.
What Is Manslaughter?
Under Texas law, manslaughter is defined as "recklessly causing the death of an individual." Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 19.04. In Texas, "[a] person acts recklessly, or is reckless, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur." The disregard risk must "be of such a nature and degree that its disregard 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." Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 6.03(c).
Because the charge is based on an allegation of reckless conduct, there is no requirement to prove premeditation. Premeditation here means the consideration or planning towards the act of killing another human being. The only requirement of proof in manslaughter cases is that the defendant exhibited recklessness. The nature of the word reckless is naturally quite subjective and is evaluated by the trier of fact (judge or jury) on a case by case basis. There is no fast and easy test to make a determination as to whether an action was reckless or was not.
Manslaughter is considered to be a felony of the second degree. Texas does not make a distinction between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. Manslaughter may not be as serious as murder, but a person convicted of this offense can still face significant penalties.
What are the penalties for intoxication manslaughter in Texas?
As a second degree felony in Texas, the charge of manslaughter usually carries a sentence between two and twenty years and a fine not to exceed $10,000.
What are the types of manslaughter in Texas?
Although the Lone Star State does not make a legal distinction between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, it does take care to designate the various forms of the offense. Intoxication manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, and criminally negligent manslaughter are three such designations.
- Intoxication Manslaughter: Intoxication manslaughter occurs when an individual causes the death of another due to the recklessness that occurred while the individual was driving while intoxicated. Despite the plain nomenclature, intoxication manslaughter does not broadly refer to manslaughter in any situation during which someone is drunk, but only when they were operating a vehicle and consequently caused another's death, whether by accident or mistake. Texas is the only state to have designated the offense of “Intoxication Manslaughter” with that particular verbiage.
- Vehicular Manslaughter: Given the high frequency of car accidents in the United States and especially in the state of Texas, vehicular manslaughter is arguably one of the most common forms of manslaughter. This offense occurs when reckless operation of a motor vehicle results in the death of another and the driver was not intoxicated. Interestingly, vehicular manslaughter can even be filed against someone who was present in the vehicle but was not the driver.
- Criminally Negligent Manslaughter: Criminally negligent manslaughter is a charge arising from “conduct… [that carried] substantial and unjustifiable risk.” “Failure to perceive” this risk, under Texas law, is considered a kind of gross negligence on the part of the individual, who may be held accountable for the failure to perceive that risk if it resulted in someone else's death.
What is needed to convict for manslaughter in Texas?
In order to be convicted of manslaughter, prosecutors need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant caused the death of another individual as a result of the defendant's own recklessness. In criminal court, the prosecutor must prove their case "beyond a reasonable doubt." Reasonable doubt is defined as "[t]he doubt that prevents one from being firmly convinced of a defendant's guilt, or the belief that there is a real possibility that a defendant is not guilty." Black's Law Dictionary 1380 (9th ed. 2009).
What are the defenses for manslaughter charges in Texas?
There are many different avenues and ways in which your attorney can build the defense in your case. Speaking to an experienced criminal defense attorney will help you determine the unique needs of your case and understand what kind of defense would be best for it. Some common defenses include:
- In this case, a defendant may help their case by proving that some form of mental impairment contributed to or caused the recklessness that led to the manslaughter incident.
Heat of passion
- A heat of passion defense in a manslaughter case would essentially position the offense as something that occurred while the defendant was in an extremely agitated state of mind, with their good sense and reason momentarily unhinged by some sort of provocation or emotion, such as fear, rage, or terror.
- If the defendant alleges an act occurred in self-defense, their lawyer will have to prove that the action that gave way to the defendant's response was an imminent threat to the defendant's safety.
Contact An Attorney
Houston criminal defense attorney Doug Murphy is experienced in defending intoxication manslaughter cases. If you have been charged with manslaughter in Texas, do not hesitate to contact Doug Murphy for high caliber legal representation. Doug Murphy is devoted to upholding your rights and providing a powerhouse defense in the courtroom. Call us at 713-229-8333 or contact us online.