Texas Manslaughter Law – Penal Code 19.04

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 What Is Considered Manslaughter in Texas?

Manslaughter in Texas is defined under Texas Penal Code 19.04 as when an individual recklessly causes the death of another individual. An individual acts recklessly when they act in a way that disregards the risks of their conduct and results in harm to another individual.

Manslaughter does not require the prosecution to show premeditation, knowledge, or intent on the part of the defendant. Murder charges, on the other hand, do require these elements.

In some cases, an individual will initially be charged with murder but have the charges reduced to manslaughter at a later time. Examples of factors that may reduce or mitigate murder charges include acting under the influence of extreme emotional distress that created a reasonable explanation or excuse or acting under delusions of a mental illness.

It is important to note that being under the influence of drugs or being intoxicated is not a mitigating factor when considering whether or not to reduce a murder charge to a manslaughter charge. If an individual has any questions regarding the difference between manslaughter and murder, they should consult with a local attorney in Texas.

What Is Manslaughter?

Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another individual that is not considered to be a murder based on mitigating or surrounding circumstances. Manslaughter is a criminal charge that is commonly used when the defendant did not plan to kill the individual who passed away.

The defendant’s state of mind when they commit the offense is what determines whether they are charged with murder or manslaughter. Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another individual without malice but with either a conscious disregard for human life recklessness, or criminal negligence.

There are two main categories of manslaughter, including voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter is homicide or an act of killing that results in death that would generally be defined as murder. However, the killing was committed in response to adequate provocation.

Adequate provocation is usually defined as being anything sufficient to incite a normal, reasonable individual to a sudden response of intense passion. Voluntary manslaughter typically arises in situations such as “heat of passion” moments, imperfect self-defense, or during the commission of a felony.

Heat of passion is a legal term that describes a situation in which an individual is so overwhelmed by a strong emotion, for example, jealousy or anger, that they act impulsively. In criminal law, heat of passion can be a mitigating factor that reduces a murder charge to voluntary manslaughter.

In order to use the head of passion defense, the provocation must be:

  • Sudden;
  • Adequate;
  • Sufficient to cause a strong emotional response.

Involuntary manslaughter occurs when an individual unintentionally kills another individual due to a lack of care. Involuntary manslaughter usually occurs in one of the following ways:

  • When there is a death that is attributed to reckless behavior or criminal negligence;
  • Resulting from an unlawful act that is classified as a misdemeanor or a low-level felony;
    • For example, with vehicular manslaughter, the death may occur during a traffic violation, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

What Is “State of Mind” and Why Does It Matter?

Mens rea is a legal concept about the state of mind of a defendant at the exact time they committed a crime. This concept is important because it is considered when a court or jury determines whether or not to charge a defendant with a specific offense. In turn, they are sentenced to punishments, including jail time, fines, or other punishments.

What Is Involuntary Manslaughter?

The criminal charges of both murder and manslaughter take into consideration the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the offense. Manslaughter may be the appropriate criminal charge when a defendant’s unintentional actions result in the death of another individual, or there is not enough evidence to prove criminal intent.

Evidence of mitigating factors may demonstrate that a defendant did not intend to kill the victim. Voluntary manslaughter often includes an element of provocation.

In contrast, involuntary manslaughter often occurs because the defendant failed to exercise some level of reasonable care, which resulted in the death of another individual. Involuntary manslaughter may also be referred to as criminally negligent homicide.

In the State of Utah, there is no distinction between voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. The exact definition of involuntary manslaughter, in addition to the elements that are required for a conviction, varies by state.

The most common element of involuntary manslaughter, however, is that the victim’s death was accidental.

What Are the Elements of an Involuntary Manslaughter Charge?

In order for a defendant to be convicted of manslaughter, the following elements must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • That the defendant’s actions caused the death of the victim;
  • That the defendant’s conduct was inherently dangerous or was engaged in with reckless disregard; and
  • That the defendant knew or should have known that their actions would put the life of another human being at risk.

It is important to note that not every action that the defendant engaged in has to be inherently dangerous for that element to be satisfied. For example, installing a piece of safety equipment, such as a safety harness, on a construction scaffolding is a common job requirement.

There could be a case where a scaffolding supervisor failed to properly secure the scaffolding, and, as a result, a bypassing pedestrian below the scaffolding was killed by the loose scaffolding. If so, the supervisor may be charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Are There Other Types of Manslaughter in Texas?

There are two other categories of manslaughter in Texas: intoxication manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter. Intoxication manslaughter is used when a defendant recklessly causes the death of another individual while intoxicated.

One example of this is drunk driving. Vehicular manslaughter is a criminal charge involving an incident when a defendant is accused of causing the death of another individual while operating a motor vehicle due to the reckless operation of that vehicle.

What Is the Legal Penalty for Manslaughter in Texas?

In the State of Texas, manslaughter is categorized as a felony in the second degree. The criminal penalties for manslaughter in Texas may include incarceration for one to twenty years, criminal fines of up to $10,000, or a combination of both.

In addition, a defendant’s sentence may be increased if the court finds that there were aggravating factors involved, for example, committing the crime of manslaughter in front of a child. In addition to the criminal penalties discussed above, the crime may involve a vehicle and is classified as vehicular manslaughter. In this case, the Code authorizes the court to revoke the defendant’s driver’s license immediately.

Do I Need an Attorney for Help With Manslaughter Charges in Texas?

If you are facing manslaughter charges in Texas, it is essential to consult with an experienced Texas criminal lawyer. Your lawyer will be familiar with the Texas laws governing manslaughter and your legal rights and options under those laws.

Your lawyer will also help you negotiate a plea bargain if one is offered or negotiate a lighter sentence. If bail is an option in your case, your lawyer will help you with that as well.

Your attorney will represent you during any court appearances and ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process. A criminal conviction can have an impact on your future employment, custody of your children, and many other aspects of your life, so it is essential to have legal representation.

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