Whenever someone causes the death of another person, they could face a wide range of homicide offenses. Homicide offenses range from those related to negligent conduct, as in criminally negligent homicide, to heinous intent murders, like capital murder. One of the highest categories of homicide is Murder; next to capital murder, this the most severe degree of murder. Murder is the intentional taking of the life of another; and if convicted, an offender faces an extremely high punishment range, including the capital punishment in Texas. As such, any defendant charged with Murder should understand the charge, any possible defenses, and the punishment options for this crime.
What Is a Murder Allegation?
As mentioned, murder is the intentional killing of another person. The next higher category is capital murder. All murder charges are felonies. Texas does not allow probation for murder. The purpose of the title is to differentiate from other homicide offenses with lower levels of intent, such as involuntary manslaughter. Murder is usually charged in one of two ways:
The first method of charging felony murder is by specific intent. If a defendant intends to kill a victim or premeditates the death of another, the intent plus the result supports a murder charge. Many states word their statutes to require that the defendant caused the death of another person. However, because of Supreme Court rulings, Texas law includes the definition of another person to those unborn as well as those that are already born.
The second method of charging murder is by conduct. If a defendant was engaged in conduct that would constitute a felony offense and caused the death of another person during the course of that conduct, they could also be charged with felony murder. The state is not required to prove that the defendant had a specific intent to kill the victim, only that the defendant intended to commit the felony offense. Knowing how felony murder is charged and the charging limitations can help a defendant develop a defensive strategy.
Defenses for Murder
The first defensive approach is to review the murder statute to see if the events alleged comply with the required elements. A second defensive strategy is to negate the intent requirement if the felony murder allegation is based on a specific intent to kill another. Negation of intent can also include the invocation of certain affirmative defenses like self-defense, sudden passion, and necessity. Essentially, a defendant puts on evidence that they had no other choice and the decision was spontaneous, rather than a planned or premeditated act.
A third defensive strategy, mitigation, is similar to the second strategy, in that it involves an admission that the death of an individual occurred. Instead of contesting that the defendant was responsible for the death of another, they put on evidence of a lesser-included offense. A lesser included offense is a similar charge that requires a lower intent (like negligence or recklessness), and thereby a lower range of eventual punishment. To get an instruction on a lesser included charge, a defendant is required to develop some testimony to support a charge to the jury. Lesser included offenses could include reckless manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, or negligent homicide. Even though admitting even part of guilt seems odd, the result can be a much lower charge, and thereby a much lower punishment range at sentencing.
Possible Consequences for a Murder Allegation
Murder defendants face a steep range of punishment. Texas classifies murder as one degree lower than capital murder, where the death penalty is an option. Even where the death penalty is not an option, life in prison usually is. For any murder charge, a defendant can be incarcerated for as little as five years, but up to life in prison. The exact range of punishment will depend on the Texas penal code.
Because murder is a specific intent crime (intent to kill another or intent to commit a felony), all defendants do face prison time since Texas law does not allow probation for murder.
Beyond the criminal case, murder carries other consequences. Because of the open records, more employers will know about the conviction and will often refuse to hire individuals convicted of assaultive offenses, like murder. If a defendant held a professional license, the state might revoke their license after a final conviction. the punishment continues far beyond the prison sentence.
Next to capital murder, murder is the most serious of criminal offenses. Even a mere allegation can impact a defendant’s job and reputation in the community. Any defendant charged with felony murder should visit with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after the event to obtain help in preserving valuable evidence and invoking certain defenses. Many of the best defenses and mitigation strategies are developed before indictment when the evidence is fresh, and witness memories are still clear.