Murder charges in Texas are one of the most serious charges that a person can face. The bare minimum consequences for a conviction include spending a large portion of your life, the only one that you get, in a state or federal prison. This is why it is crucial that you hire a criminal defense attorney who knows how to beat a murder charge if you’ve been accused.

In order to commit homicide in Texas you must “intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence cause the death of an individual.” Therefore, to beat a murder charge in Texas your attorney might argue self-defense, lack of intent, violation of your constitutional rights, or even insanity. 

However your attorney intends to defend your murder charge, the important thing is that you hire an attorney who is a veteran at taking complex criminal cases to trial and arguing in front of a judge and jury. You need a trial lawyer

Mark Thiessen is a trial lawyer who makes miracles happen in the courtroom. He could be the only thing standing between you and your loved ones and 25 to life. Call Thiessen Law Firm today at (713) 864-9000 to begin defending your freedom.

What is the difference between murder and manslaughter in Texas?

Texas, unlike most states, does not define murder in different degrees but instead defines homicide in four classes, which include:

  • Capital murder
  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Criminally negligent homicide 

Each homicide type 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 in Texas. 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.

Criminally negligent homicide

Criminally negligent homicide occurs when someone causes the death of an individual by acting in a way that should have been understood as dangerous although not expressly intentional. For example, you may be charged with criminally negligent homicide if you crashed your car while doing donuts and your passenger died.


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 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 have a separate charge for intoxication manslaughter.


Murder charges in Texas, known in other states as second-degree murder, include malice aforethought, premeditated, or planned murder. To be charged with 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.

Capital murder

What is capital murder? Capital murder in Texas, which is known as first-degree murder in other states, is essentially murder of anyone in 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 

Even if you don’t receive the death penalty, you may still face life imprisonment without parole if convicted on capital murder charges.

What is the penalty in Texas for murder?

The penalty will depend on the type of homicide charge you’ve been hit with. Although they are all incredibly severe, they become more severe depending on the circumstances of the crime, with capital murder in Texas being the most serious charge. 

Criminally negligent homicide Texas sentence

Those charged with criminally negligent homicide in Texas can expect to face a state jail felony punishable by between 180 days and two years in a state jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

Sentence for manslaughter in Texas

Those charged with manslaughter in Texas can expect to face a second-degree felony punishable by a prison sentence of between two and 20 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

2nd-degree murder sentence in Texas

A charge for second-degree murder, known as standard murder in Texas, is a first-degree felony punishable by a prison sentence ranging from 5 years to life imprisonment and a fine up to $10,000.

Capital murder Texas sentence

A charge for capital murder in Texas is an enhanced first-degree felony, punishable by a life sentence in prison or, in rare cases, the death penalty. 

Defenses for a murder charge in Texas

Although murder charges are some of the most serious charges a person can face, it doesn’t mean that it is time to give up. You are innocent until proven guilty, and your lawyer will fight to do everything possible to preserve that innocence. Some defenses they may use in your murder trial include:

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.

Facing a murder charge in Texas? Thiessen Law Firm can help.

If you or someone you love is facing a murder charge in Texas — whether that be capital murder, murder, manslaughter, or criminally negligent homicide — 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 tooth and nail for your rights in a court of law. 

If you or a loved one has been accused of any form of homicide in Houston, you need a dedicated and aggressive murder attorney to begin building your defense before it’s too late. Call Thiessen Law Firm today at (713) 864-9000 or contact us online for a consultation to start the fight for your freedom. 

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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.