It’s not uncommon for Texas to refer to laws a little bit differently than other states, and the degrees of murder in Texas are no exception. In the state of Texas, the terms related to murder are often misused, especially where different degrees of murder are referred to by name rather than by degree. For instance, Texas law does not officially refer to first-degree murder as such — it is instead referred to as “capital murder.”
In this guide, the criminal law experts from Thiessen Law Firm will walk you through the different degrees of murder in Texas and answer common questions such as “Is murder a felony?” and “What’s the difference in the degrees of murder?”
What’s the difference in the degrees of murder?
First-degree murder (capital murder)
First-degree murder is the most serious of all the different degrees of murder. Texas does not officially refer to first-degree murder as “first-degree murder.” Rather, it is referred to as capital murder and is charged as a first-degree felony punishable by up to a lifetime in prison or the death penalty.
As mentioned above, in order to be charged with capital murder, it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally or knowingly caused the death of another who was acting under lawful duty, or the victim was under the age of 10. Those who were paid to commit murder, paying another to commit murder, or trying to escape a penal institution may also be charged with capital murder.
Defenses against first-degree murder can include lack of intent or knowledge, insanity, intoxication, or murder in self-defense.
In the state of Texas, second-degree murder is referred to simply as “murder” and is charged as a first-degree felony unless the defendant is able to prove that the act was committed as a crime of passion.
“Second-degree” murder charges as defined by Penal Code § 19.02(b)(1) still require intent on the part of the accused, and can be filed when:
- A person intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual;
- A person intends to cause serious bodily injury and commits an act that causes the death of an individual; or
- A person causes the death of an individual during the commission or attempted commission of a felony.
The main deciding factor as to whether or not an intentional act of murder is charged as capital murder (“first degree”) or murder (“second degree”) is the specifics of the murder as listed above.
However, murder can be charged as a second-degree felony if it can be proven that the act was committed as a result of a sudden heat of passion that rendered the defendant unable to cooly reflect on their actions, in which case, the charge would be dropped to a second-degree felony. A second-degree felony is punishable by 2-20 years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
Outside of using the heat of passion as a defense, other defenses against a murder charge can include self-defense, lack of intent or knowledge, or intoxication.
Learn more about how to beat a murder case.
There are only three states in America that have third-degree murder laws — Minnesota, Florida, and Pennsylvania — and each has its own set of laws regarding what is considered third-degree murder. Because Texas is not one of these states, you cannot be charged with third-degree murder.
What are the 4 categories of homicide in Texas?
According to Texas Penal Code 19.01, homicide is a felony crime that is defined as “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing the death of an individual.” Criminal homicide is a broad term used to define four different subsets: murder, capital murder, manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide. The differences between each classification depend on the nature and intention of the accused crime.
- Murder (Texas Penal Code 19.02): Contrary to common phrasing, murder and homicide are not legally defined as the same crime. Murder is committed when a person “intentionally or knowingly causes the death of another person.” You can also be charged with murder if you caused the death of another person during an attempt to inflict serious bodily injury or commit another felony.
- Captial murder (Texas Penal Code 19.03): What is capital murder? Homicide is charged as capital murder if the victim was a law officer on duty, under the age of 10, or if the death occurred during the commission or attempted commission of kidnapping, robbery, burglary, arson, aggravated sexual assault, retaliation, obstruction or during a terrorist threat. You can also be charged with capital murder if more than one person was killed during an attempt to commit another felony.
- Manslaughter (Texas Penal Code 19.04): The difference between murder and manslaughter is that manslaughter occurs when you cause the death of an individual as a result of your reckless disregard for human life. Manslaughter can be separated into two classifications: involuntary manslaughter (negligently causing the death of another person without intent to kill) and voluntary manslaughter (intentionally killing another person in the heat of the moment).
- Criminally negligent homicide (Texas Penal Code 19.05): A person is charged with criminally negligent homicide if they cause the death of an individual by criminal negligence (i.e. reckless driving).
No matter how you spin it, homicide is one of the most serious offenses you can be charged with in the state of Texas. If you or a loved one are facing a criminal homicide charge, you need the best homicide attorney Houston has to offer. Without a strong defense, you could be facing up to a lifetime in prison and steep fines depending on the details of your case.
Looking for aggressive murder defense in Houston? Call Thiessen Law Firm today!
Rather than referring to different degrees of murder in Texas by degrees, the state classifies first-degree murder as capital murder and second-degree murder only as murder. It does not have laws classifying third-degree murder.
If you or a loved one are facing murder charges in Texas, it’s absolutely vital that you hire an aggressive murder lawyer in Houston, like the ones from Thiessen Law Firm, as soon as possible. Murder and manslaughter charges are some of the most serious charges you could face. Hiring the right attorney can be the difference between your freedom and a lifetime in prison.
Let us help protect and fight for your rights. Call Thiessen Law Firm today at 713-864-9000 or contact us online for a free consultation.
More Helpful Articles by Thiessen Law Firm:
- Is Assault on a Family Member in Texas a Felony?
- Bar Fight Jail Time: Can You Get Arrested For a Bar Fight?
- What is the Miranda Warning Law?
- DWI FAQ with DWI Expert Mark Thiessen
- What Happens If You Get Caught With a Fake ID?