Murder is one of the most serious crimes you can be charged with in Texas, making it crucial that you hire a criminal defense attorney who knows how to beat a murder charge if you’ve been accused.

Criminal homicide is defined as someone who: “intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence causes the death of an individual.” To beat a murder charge in Texas, there are a few defenses your attorney might use such as claiming self-defense or insanity and proving lack of intent or constitutional violations.

Regardless of guilt or the degree of murder you’re being charged with, the penalties for any classification of murder charges can be severe. If convicted, you or your loved one could lose decades of freedom and in rare cases, even your life. When going through such a stressful time, you need a serious murder defense on your side. Here are 5 of the possible defenses your attorney can take to beat a murder charge.

5 possible defenses for a murder charge

1. Self-defense, defense of property, or exercise of duty

One way to defend a murder charge is to argue that you had to commit murder in self-defense, to defend those around you, or to protect yourself while on the job. In order to claim this defense, you and your attorney will need to prove that you behaved proportionally to the threat. In other words, you have to prove that you or others were at severe risk of injury or death from the person you are accused of murdering. 

2. Mistaken identity

Mistaken identity means that you were wrongly accused, charged, and taken to trial for a crime that you did not commit. Mistaken identity scenarios are more likely than most people think, due in part to mistaken and/or coerced eye-witness testimonies. To argue this defense, your attorney will most likely try to establish an airtight alibi or create a reasonable doubt as to the evidence that places you at the crime scene.

3. Lack of intent

Whether or not you actually intended to kill someone can be the deciding factor between being charged with criminally negligent homicide or manslaughter and murder or capital murder in Texas. The differences in the penalties for less severe murder charges are significant and for most cases, it is worth trying to reduce culpability. Your attorney may also try to argue “heat of passion” in which case sudden extreme emotions rendered the defendant incapable of rational thought and resulted in murder.

If you did not intend to kill, your attorney will need to show that the victim died as a result of your recklessness or negligence rather than an intention to kill them.

4. Constitutional violations

Whether or not you’re guilty of murder, you are entitled to a standard set of protections as per the United States Constitution. Constitutional violations are all too common in many criminal defense trials. Violations such as wrongful treatment of the defendant, being denied access to an attorney, not obtaining a warrant, coerced confessions, and illegally collecting evidence can result in murder charges being dropped or a plea bargain for a lesser punishment.

5. Insanity

In very specific cases, claiming insanity can help an individual avoid time in jail although they may be required to spend time in a mental institution instead. This defense works when the defendant is unable to understand the criminality of their actions due to a mental disease or defect.

Degrees of murder and their penalties

Rather than defining degrees of murder like most states, Texas defines homicide in four classes including capital murder, murder, manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide. Each is defined by the intent and/or severity of the particular crime. The increase in degree relates to an increase in the seriousness of possible punishments — with capital murder being the most serious.

Although the death penalty isn’t common, it’s still a very real possibility if you are convicted of capital murder. Texas is one of 30 states in which the death penalty, or “capital punishment,” is legal and Harris County specifically is known for resorting to the use of the death penalty for murder charges. Since 1976, Texas has executed more than 550 prisoners. This is more than any other state in America.

Even if you don’t receive the death penalty, you may still face life imprisonment without parole if convicted on capital murder charges. That said, it’s still possible to beat a murder charge in Texas.

Capital murder

Capital murder is also known as first-degree murder and includes malice aforethought, premeditated, or planned murder. To be charged with capital murder, it must be clear that there was an intent to kill the victim and that the decision was made while in a clear state of mind. The motive to kill and the context in which it took place are often of high consideration in these cases. Texas also largely considers the victim when classifying murder charges. For instance, you will be charged with capital murder if the person murdered was an active police officer, under the age of 10, or was an employee of a prison.

A person can be charged with capital murder if they are accused of killing a person in any of the following contexts: 

  • Murder of a police officer or a firefighter in the “lawful discharge of official duty” 
  • Murder committed in the course of committing (or attempting to commit) another criminal offense such as burglary, kidnapping, sexual assault, retaliation, terroristic threat, etc.
  • Murder committed for financial compensation or the promise of financial compensation 
  • Murder committed over the course of an escape from a penal institution
  • Murder committed while incarcerated
  • Murder of more than one person during the same criminal transaction or course of conduct
  • Murder of a child aged 15 years or younger
  • Murder of a judge in retaliation for a ruling or sentencing 

Punishment for capital murder includes a life sentence without parole or, in rare cases, the death penalty.


Murder is commonly known by other states as second-degree murder and is similar to capital murder except for its punishments. In Texas, murder is punishable by a prison sentence ranging from 5 years to life imprisonment and a fine up to $10,000.

To learn more about the difference between capital murder and murder, check out our article Capital Murder vs. Murder in Texas.


As defined in Chapter 19 of the Texas Penal Code, manslaughter is defined as recklessly causing the death of an individual. To be charged with manslaughter, there does not need to be evidence of an intent to kill, just that the defendant acted in a way that was knowingly reckless. Unlike many other states, Texas does not define manslaughter as voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter. Though it does separate it into charges including intoxication manslaughter.

Manslaughter is classified as a second-degree felony and is punishable by a prison sentence of between two and 20 years and a fine up to $10,000.

Criminally negligent homicide

When comparing negligent homicide vs manslaughter in Texas, criminally negligent homicide may appear “least serious.” However, the charges can still be frightening and might bring on some serious punishments. Criminally negligent homicide occurs when someone causes the death of an individual by acting in a way that should have been understood as dangerous. For example, you may be charged with criminally negligent homicide if you crashed your car while doing donuts and your passenger died.

This offense is defined as a state jail felony punishable by between 180 days and two years in a state jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

Contact a Houston criminal homicide attorney at Thiessen Law Firm today

If you or someone you love has been charged with capital murder, murder, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, or is facing an attempted murders sentence Texas, you need to seek aggressive criminal defense from Thiessen Law Firm immediately.

Thiessen Law Firm has the top Houston criminal defense attorney who can keep you from spending the rest of your life behind bars. As a Texas Criminal “Super Lawyer” with 100+ Not-Guilty Verdicts under his belt, Mark Thiessen uses his years of experience and outstanding knowledge of the law to fight for your freedom. 

Give Thiessen Law Firm a call today at 713-864-9000 or fill out our online contact form to get started.

More Helpful Articles by Thiessen Law Firm:

Mark Thiessen

Mark Thiessen is an aggressive trial lawyer best known for his devotion to justice for his clients and high rank as a DWI Super Lawyer in Texas.