What Is Manslaughter & How Does It Differ from Murder?

If you are facing charges of manslaughter in Texas, the stakes are incredibly high. While both murder and manslaughter are considered criminal homicide under Texas law, the potential defenses against these charges can vary, as can the possible penalties. Understanding the distinctions between the two is crucial in mounting an effective defense. Here’s what you need to know.

Types of Criminal Homicide in Texas

Criminal homicide occurs when someone intentionally, recklessly, or negligently kills another person. There are four types of criminal homicide under Texas law: murder, capital murder, manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide.


A person commits murder if they:

  • Intentionally or knowingly cause another individual’s death
  • Intentionally cause serious bodily injury and commit an act clearly dangerous to human life, resulting in another individual’s death
  • While committing or attempting to commit a felony besides manslaughter, commit or attempt to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life, resulting in death

Typically, murder is a felony of the first degree. But exceptions could apply if the defendant (the person facing criminal charges) proves they acted under the immediate influence of “sudden passion” stemming from an “adequate cause.” In that case, the offense could downgrade to a second-degree felony.

Capital Murder

Capital murder is when someone commits murder and fulfills one or more specific conditions. For instance, capital murder might involve murdering a peace officer or fireman, committing murder during specific other crimes, or murder for payment. This offense is a capital felony, meaning a conviction could result in the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole.


Manslaughter involves recklessly causing the death of another individual. A typical example of manslaughter is when someone drives under the influence of alcohol or drugs and causes an accident that kills another person. Manslaughter is a second-degree felony under Texas law.

Criminally Negligent Homicide

Criminally negligent homicide occurs when someone causes another individual’s death due to criminal negligence. Examples of criminal negligence include child neglect, ignoring traffic signals while driving, and failing to restrain dangerous animals. This type of homicide is considered a state jail felony.

Legal Penalties for Manslaughter vs. Murder

The penalties for murder and manslaughter in Texas differ based on the specific offense.

  • First-Degree Felony Murder: Murder is usually a felony of the first degree in Texas. Penalties for a first-degree felony in Texas include a life sentence or a five- to 99-year term in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Second-Degree Felony Murder: If the offense is reduced to a second-degree felony, penalties include two to 20 years in a state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Capital Murder: Capital murder is a capital felony, punishable by the death penalty. If prosecutors do not pursue the death penalty, life imprisonment with no parole is likely.
  • Manslaughter: Manslaughter is a second-degree felony in Texas, punishable by two to 20 years in state prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Possible Defenses to Murder Charges in Texas

Defending against a murder charge demands a robust and strategic approach. Here are some possible defenses to murder charges that attorneys often use in these cases:

  • Self-Defense: Arguing that the act was committed in self-defense is one of the most common defenses to a murder charge. The defendant must typically show a reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary to protect against an immediate threat.
  • Mistaken Identity: The defense might argue that the prosecution has charged the wrong person due to mistaken witness identification, misleading evidence, or other errors.
  • Alibi: Providing evidence that shows the defendant was not at the crime scene when it occurred is another effective way to counter a murder charge.
  • Suppression of Evidence: Sometimes, law enforcement officers knowingly or unknowingly obtain evidence illegally. In that case, a motion to suppress such evidence could significantly weaken the prosecution’s case.
  • Involuntary Act: If the defendant can prove that the act was involuntary or accidental and not committed with the requisite mental state for murder, this can serve as a defense.

Possible Defenses to Manslaughter Charges in Texas

While murder involves intentional killing, manslaughter involves causing someone else’s death through recklessness or a lack of due caution. The defenses for manslaughter need to target this aspect to prove the defendant’s actions do not meet the criteria for recklessness. Here are some common defenses used in manslaughter cases:

  • Lack of Recklessness: The most straightforward defense is to argue that the defendant’s actions were not reckless, meaning they exercised a level of care that any reasonable person would under the circumstances.
  • Accident: There could be a viable defense if the act that caused the death was genuinely accidental and the defendant was not acting recklessly. A defense attorney could demonstrate that any reasonable person could have made such a mistake.
  • Self-Defense: Although more common in murder cases, claiming that the defendant acted in self-defense can also be a defense in manslaughter cases, especially if there was no intent to kill.
  • Intoxication: While usually not a complete defense, involuntary intoxication could negate the element of “recklessness,” possibly downgrading the charge or leading to an acquittal.

How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

The consequences of a murder or manslaughter conviction are life-altering. Retaining a trusted defense attorney is essential if you face charges for either offense. They can help you by:

  • Conducting an Independent Investigation: Your lawyer can gather evidence, interview witnesses, and explore aspects of the case that law enforcement might have overlooked.
  • Challenging the Evidence Against You: A skilled lawyer can also scrutinize the prosecution’s evidence, identifying and highlighting inconsistencies to weaken the case against you.
  • Negotiating Aggressively with Prosecutors: Attorneys often negotiate for reductions in charges, more favorable plea deals, or alternative sentencing options.
  • Representing You in Court: If you must appear in court, your attorney will present compelling arguments, cross-examine witnesses, and work to prove that reasonable doubt exists.
  • Appealing a Conviction: If convicted, your lawyer can explore the possibilities for an appeal, aiming to overturn or reduce your sentence based on possible legal errors or oversights.

Discuss Your Case with a Murder or Manslaughter Defense Lawyer Today

Time is of the essence when you’re dealing with charges as serious as murder or manslaughter. Contact the Law Office of Case J. Darwin for a free consultation and the legal guidance you need.


Image by Robert Linder Licensed via Unsplash

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