The Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter
Homicide is a felony charge involving someone’s actions that cause another person’s death. It includes multiple types of offenses with numerous forms of penalties.
Murder and manslaughter fall under the category of criminal homicide. A person commits criminal homicide if they knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally, or with criminal negligence, causes someone’s death.
Although both crimes involve similar results, the circumstances of each offense differ.
Elements of a Murder Charge
According to Texas Penal Code § 19.02(b), a person commits murder if they:
- Knowingly or intentionally cause an individual’s death;
- Engage in actions clearly dangerous to human life and intend to cause serious bodily injury, resulting in someone’s death; or
- Attempt to commit or commit a felony except for manslaughter, and while supporting or during the attempt or commission or during immediate flight after the attempt or commission, commit an act clearly dangerous to human life, causing an individual’s death.
A primary factor distinguishing between murder and manslaughter is intent. The state can charge a person with murder if the intent to cause serious bodily injury, death, or a felony other than manslaughter exists. Manslaughter does not involve intent.
A murder charge can increase to capital murder under various circumstances. For example, murdering a fireman or peace officer acting in an official capacity while knowing they are a fireman or peace officer is capital murder instead of murder.
Elements of a Manslaughter Charge
Texas Penal Code § 19.04(a) defines manslaughter as recklessly causing an individual’s death. Intent isn’t a required factor in proving someone committed manslaughter. Instead, the state must show the defendant was reckless in causing the death.
Recklessness involves actions that pose an unjustifiable and substantial risk of a person’s death. These actions must deviate from what an ordinary person would consider reasonable to prevent serious harm. It also includes knowing the actions could risk someone’s life but engaging in those actions anyway.
How to Defend Against a Murder or Manslaughter Charge
Whether the charge is murder or manslaughter, the possible defense strategies are similar. Below are the most common defenses used in these cases.
Proving the state charged the wrong person is the point of a mistaken identity defense. The defendant must have a solid alibi for the date, time, and location of the crime. Showing they were somewhere else when the offense occurred could prevent the prosecutor from proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Challenging the validity of eyewitness statements and forensic evidence is also possible. It raises doubt about the defendant’s link to the crime scene.
Sometimes causing someone’s death is justified under state law. Justified killings include:
- Self-defense – Self-defense is a common defense strategy in murder cases. It requires showing the defendant had a reasonable fear of bodily harm or death and used reasonable force to defend themselves from another person.
- Defense of others – Defense of others is similar to self-defense. Using reasonable force against someone to defend another person from bodily harm is justifiable.
- Exercise of duty – State law protects law enforcement and other public officers from prosecution if they don’t use excessive force. Killing someone while acting in an official capacity without negligence, unlawful intent, or recklessness is a solid defense against a manslaughter or murder charge.
- Accidental death – Accidentally killing someone isn’t murder. However, it can result in a lesser charge, such as criminally negligent homicide. For example, leaving a child alone in a hot car isn’t murder or manslaughter. It is a form of criminally negligent homicide because it’s a risky action a person knows or should know can cause death.
- Failing to prove the elements of the charge – To prove someone is guilty of manslaughter or murder, the prosecutor must establish that the elements of the crime exist. A murder charge requires showing that the defendant intended to cause serious bodily injury or death or committed a felony (except manslaughter), knowing it endangers human life. Proving manslaughter requires showing reckless actions and participating in those actions despite knowing the risk.
Contact an Aggressive Defense Attorney Today
Manslaughter and murder are serious offenses. They can lead to imprisonment, fines, and additional penalties. You need an experienced lawyer to represent you in your case and defend against the charge you face.
The Collin County homicide, murder, and manslaughter defense attorneys of Rosenthal Kalabus & Therrian believe in advocating for clients in Texas. We take a personalized approach to meet the unique needs of the defendants we represent. You can count on us to protect your rights and fight for the best results possible in your situation.