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 to sort out causation, intoxication, and appropriate punishment.
An accomplished, experienced and knowledgeable board certified DWI attorney is immediately needed to properly investigate your case. A knowledgeable 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.
At Doug Murphy Law Firm, we are here to help you through this hard time:
- We want you to know that an intoxication manslaughter charge is basically an allegation that you were driving while intoxicated and caused a fatal accident; it does not mean you are guilty.
- Board certified DWI criminal defense lawyer Doug Murphy will hold the judge and jury accountable to the standard of presumption of innocence; the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt you are guilty, and Doug Murphy will prove the State's case against you is faulty.
- Complete dismissal of the charges is always the goal.
If you want a legal representative who will fight for your freedom, then Doug Murphy Law Firm is the right place to bring 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.
More damaging are the repercussions you face in society, which can alter the quality of your life. A conviction of intoxication manslaughter means a permanent criminal record. That criminal record has consequences. As a felon, you are disenfranchised, and -- upon release from prison -- restoring voting rights can be difficult. As a felon, you are unable to hold public office and are ineligible to apply for certain jobs or professions. If you have educational aspirations, admission and financial aid can be denied. If you are looking for housing, many places restrict or deny residency to ex-felons. In addition to these things, your reputation is compromised, and for some, that can matter more than anything else.
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.
Developing a Strategy to Defend an Intoxication Manslaughter Case in Houston TX
One defense strategy does not fit all. Your defense will be built on the specific and unique facts of the case. The primary goal of the defense strategy is holding the State, judge and jury, if applicable, accountable to the presumption of innocence standard, which means destroying or weakening -- at the least -- the State's case against you. The State is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt you are guilty of intoxication manslaughter. Throughout the pre-trial period and, if it comes to it, during the trial, we will -- when applicable -- investigate the accident, analyze the evidence, refute the evidence, file pretrial pleadings, and argue and negotiate on your behalf. Your defense strategy may include any of the following:
- Constitutional Challenges. Many times, law enforcement agents violate the Fourth and/or Fifth Amendments of the Constitution when they arrest you for DWI manslaughter. If constitutional rights were violated, and evidence was obtained through that violation, then it was illegally obtained. Your lawyer will review your case, including any available footage, to determine if any violations were made. If so, then your lawyer can file a Motion to Suppress to exclude the illegally obtained evidence.
- Improper Administration or Inaccurate Results of Breath or Blood Test. A person conducts these tests. A person transfers these samples from one place to another place. Samples go from one hand to another hand. A person interprets the results. A person maintains equipment, or not. A person follows protocol, or not. A person commits errors; it's only natural, if not negligent or reckless. Mistakes made by persons handling blood samples or the breathalyzer are mistakes that can negatively impact the evidence. When mistakes are made and identified, pretrial motions can be filed strategically to exclude or limit the evidence.
- Improper Administration of Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs). The results of these tests are highly subjective, and even so, the results are admissible unless they were improperly administered. If the FSTs are not properly administered, then the results are faulty. Your lawyer can prove faulty administration through, for example, an analysis of any available footage or, if the footage is not available, by cross-examination of the officer who administered the tests, using his or her student manual to confirm whether he or she knew the proper way to administer the test(s).
- Absence of Causation. The State does not need to prove intent to kill, but it does need to demonstrate you caused the accident. There is an automatic presumption that you did if you were intoxicated. But accidents can happen for many reasons, and even if you were intoxicated, you may not have (1) been illegally impaired; and (2) caused the accident that resulted in someone's death. The other driver could have made an error, the vehicle could have a defect, the road may have been engineered imperfectly. Whatever the case, your lawyer may choose to employ an expert to reconstruct the accident scene. A reconstruction and a fresh analysis can refute the claims made by the police officers and offer another cause of the accident.
Ultimately, your lawyer will fight the elements of intoxication and cause of the accident. Crippling one element of the offense is the first step to crippling the State's entire case.
Finding the Right Lawyer in Houston TX
To build a strong defense, you must first have an experienced lawyer who knows the law, knows the procedures, knows the court system, is resourceful and offers a comprehensive approach to your case. The hallmarks of an experienced lawyer are not his or her word on it, but a reputation built on that experience.
Board Certified Criminal Law. According to the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, the designation "Board Certified" in criminal law is a mark of excellence that testifies to a lawyer's substantial experience. There are 20 areas of specialized law in Texas, and only a distinguished few are Board Certified lawyers in those areas. In fact, only a small percentage of Texas lawyers are Board Certified in any of the 20 specializations: 7% of 100,000 lawyers. Doug Murphy is one of them. He is Board Certified in Criminal law.
Board Certified DWI Law. Board Certification for driving under the influence (DUI) is offered through the National College for DUI Defense (NCDD). To be a DUI Board Certified Specialist you must meet rigorous qualifications and take an exam. There are many Texan lawyers who are members of the NCDD, but almost all are not Board Certified Specialists in DUI Defense Law. Doug Murphy is a Board Certified Specialist in DUI Defense Law.
The combination of Board Certified Criminal Law through the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Board Certified Specialist in DUI Defense Law through the National College of DUI Defense is a unique distinction in Texas. Only two Texas lawyers are Board certified in both criminal law and DWI. Doug Murphy is one of these two lawyers, and he is based in Houston, Texas, but represents clients throughout the greater Houston community.
Intoxication Manslaughter Lawyer in Houston, Texas
Being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and causing an accident that resulted in the death of another person, whether that person was in your vehicle or in another vehicle, is a breathtakingly difficult experience. At Doug Murphy Law Firm, we devote our resources and capabilities to DWI cases. We have decades of proven experience and a reputation earned in the courtroom for successful results. Attorney Doug Murphy is a Board-certified DWI lawyer who not only fights on behalf of his clients but constantly gives back to the legal community to teach other attorneys how to do the same. Contact Doug Murphy online or at 713-229-8333 today to discuss the circumstances of your case.