Austin, TX

Austin Homicide Attorney

Homicide Charges In Austin, TX

A person commits criminal homicide if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence causes the death of an individual.  There are four types of homicide: murder, capital murder, manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide.  Which one depends on the circumstances, and state of mind of the actor.  It should go without saying that homicide is among the most serious crimes that can be charged, and if you find yourself accused, it is essential that you contact an Austin homicide attorney immediately.

Murder Charges (19.02)

A person is charged with murder if they knowingly or intentionally cause the death of a person.  This is more than an accident, but the intent here does not necessarily mean an intent to kill. If a person intends to cause some harm and the victim dies, then they can be charged with murder.  

There is no true way to know a person’s mental state, so the intent is inferred in other ways.   The manner of death, the acts, and words of the accused, whether he or she concealed evidence – can all be used to infer the state of mind.  Murder is a felony of the first degree unless there are mitigating circumstances, as discussed below.

2nd Degree Murder Charges 

Murder can be bumped down to 2nd degree if a person shows that he or she was “under the immediate influence of sudden passion arising from adequate cause”.  This evidence must be shown at the punishment phase by the defense.  In other words, it is up to the defense to present mitigating evidence.  If the defense cannot do so, first-degree murder is the default conviction.   

The typical example here is when someone comes home to find his spouse in bed with someone else.  That’s definitely adequate cause to get one’s blood boiling.  Or if someone is being taunted or bullied and reacts violently.  This can reduce the murder conviction to a second-degree felony.

Felony Murder Charges 19.02(3)

A person can also be charged with murder if, during the commission of a felony, or in immediate flight, a person is killed.  A typical example is when a person is fleeing the scene of a crime and strikes someone in a vehicle.  Obviously, he did not intend to cause harm with the crash, but he can still be charged with murder.  This is a concept called “felony murder”.  It is somewhat controversial because of how far it can stretch.   

A person can even be charged with murder if it was a codefendant who actually caused the death of someone.  For example, if, during the course of a robbery, one of the robbers shoots and kills a bystander, the other robbers can be charged with murder, even if they had no weapon and were unaware that anyone brought a weapon to the robbery.

Capital Murder Charges (19.03)

The penalty for capital murder can only be death or life without the possibility of parole.  There are a number of aggravating factors that can elevate a charge to capital murder.  Murdering a police officer, a child under 10, murders for hire, or in the course of a robbery or aggravated sexual assault, will all elevate the charge to capital murder.  

If found guilty of capital murder and the State elects to pursue the death penalty, there is a separate punishment trial to determine whether the defendant is sentenced to death or life without the possibility of parole.  Travis County DA Jose Garza has announced that he will not seek the death penalty in any case.  In other counties, it remains a possibility.

Manslaughter Charges (19.04)

A person can be charged with manslaughter when reckless behavior causes death.  Typical examples include street racing and fistfights that result in death.  Drinking and Driving can be considered reckless as well if there is a “disregard of a substantial risk.”  Firing a gun in the air is another example of the type of reckless behavior that could lead to a manslaughter charge. Manslaughter is a second-degree felony.

Criminally Negligent Homicide Charges (19.05)

Criminally negligent homicide is unique in that the State does not need to prove some criminally negligent state of mind. This is also sometimes referred to as Involuntary Manslaughter.  Negligence is the standard.  However, Courts have clarified to say that it does require some “serious blameworthiness in the conduct that caused it.”  

So, for example, a grocery store may be negligent in failing to clean a liquid spill, but if a person slips, hits their head, and eventually dies, this is not the type of negligence that would lead to criminal charges – even if the grocery store can be sued in civil court.  There must be something that is seriously blameworthy that goes beyond ordinary negligence.

In the case of vehicular homicide, if a prosecutor cannot show recklessness, they may still be able to charge the driver with criminally negligent homicide.  It is punished as a State Jail Felony, with a maximum sentence of 2 years.

Defenses To Homicide Charges

Often, homicide cases come down to intent.  The mental state of the defendant, including any mental health issues, must be fully examined and researched.  Death might be a very tragic event, but it does not mean that a crime has occurred.  In cases of mutual combat, self-defense is often a factor.  In other cases, the cause of death is uncertain, and cannot be put on the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt.  In these cases, medical testimony is especially important. 

Each homicide case involves a unique set of facts that can lead to a variety of defenses.  There is no “cookie-cutter” solution, but there are often many factors that mitigate or refute guilt.  An experienced Austin homicide attorney can often mitigate the offense to a lower charge, or point out holes and flaws in the prosecution’s case to get the case dismissed.  When homicide cases do go to trial, they are often longer and more complicated than other types of cases.

Contact An Austin Homicide Attorney Today

If you or a loved one is charged with homicide, the stakes cannot be higher.   How the accusations are handled will have an impact for many years or even the rest of your life.  It is vital that you speak with an experienced Austin homicide lawyer about your case.  We offer a no-cost evaluation where we can discuss what can be done to fight the case. 

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