There are several differences between the types of charges that can result from a homicide — and it’s in your best interest to understand the shades of meaning as well as you can if you’ve been accused.
Let’s discuss the legal distinctions between murder and manslaughter.
In Texas, there are essentially two types of murder charges: murder and capital murder. Capital murder charges are reserved for special situations and can carry the death penalty. They aren’t part of today’s discussion.
Ordinary murder charges mean that you are accused of:
- Intentionally and knowingly causing someone’s death.
- Intentionally causing someone serious physical harm that ultimately resulted in someone’s death.
- Committing (or trying to commit) a felony and, in the process, acting in a way that was obviously dangerous to others and someone died as a result.
Murder is generally a first-degree felony and can result in a sentence of up to 99 years in prison. But you may be able to argue for a reduction to a second-degree felony if you are convicted (depending on the circumstances).
Manslaughter, in Texas, is broadly defined and merely requires that you recklessly caused someone else’s death whether you intended to or not. There are additional situations that can result in distinct charges, such as “intoxicated manslaughter,” i.e., manslaughter committed while you were intoxicated, and vehicular manslaughter, in which you were driving a car or boat when you caused another person’s death.
Manslaughter is a second-degree felony and usually results in a prison sentence between two and 20 years.
One of the first things an experienced defense attorney will do when a violent crime is involved is look at the circumstances of the case and try to determine if the charges can be reduced. In many cases, prosecutors will “overcharge” a defendant to try to gain leverage toward a possible plea deal.
If you’ve been charged with a serious crime like murder or manslaughter, talk to a defense attorney before you talk to the police to best protect your interests.