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Messina Madson & Kendall Castello, MC Criminal Law April 13, 2021

Many people have become crime show junkies through TV, movies, and the ever-expanding world of podcasts, but you won’t learn much about Texas law that way. The Lone Star State has its own way of doing things, including criminal law.

Unlike the TV dramas, for example, you don’t have to prove motive in Texas. Unless self-defense is an issue in the case, motive plays no role in deciding guilt.

Texas also does not consider premeditation a requirement for proving murder or any other charge in Texas. When it comes to violent crimes, our state deals only with intention, knowledge, recklessness, or negligence. These are the “mens rea” that determine the appropriate charge.

Murder (First-degree felony, punishable 5-99 years or life in prison)

According to Texas Penal Code §6.03(a)-(b), the government must prove that the actor:

  • intentionally caused the death of another, OR

  • intentionally or knowingly intended to cause serious bodily injury, and acted in a way that was clearly dangerous to human life.

So if you intend to kill someone (and do), it’s murder. If you just want to hurt them badly (but they die), Texas says that’s murder too.

Manslaughter (A second-degree felony, punishable 2-20 years in prison or probation)

To obtain a guilty verdict of manslaughter, the government must show that the person acted recklessly and that those actions caused the death of another, according to Texas Penal Code §6.03(c)

We most commonly see a manslaughter in cases of accidental gun charge or similar tragedies. A person knows the risk of handling a handgun with people around, especially when it comes to activating a trigger. What’s critical to note about this definition is that “the circumstances surrounding his/her behavior” are an important part of the evidence. These details are significant to a criminal charge, especially when you’re dealing with an effective prosecutor.

Criminally Negligent Homicide (State jail felony, punishable 180 days-2 years or probation)

In order to prevail in a criminal charge of negligent homicide, the government must prove the person caused the death of another by extreme negligence, according to Texas Penal Code §6.03(d).

The important difference between manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide is your mental state at the time of the incident. This will set vastly different punishment ranges. For example, fatality caused by speeding is the most common form of criminally negligent homicide: You should know driving at high speeds could cause death, but you’re not thinking about the risk, and someone dies. Traditionally, manslaughter involves more obvious risks, such as playing with a gun. You recognize the risk, but you ignore it, and someone dies. The difference between these two mental states determines your punishment range.


As you can see, Texas doesn’t look like your average TV crime drama. We live in a state that doesn’t require pre-meditation or motive. Texas defines murder in its own way, and anyone charged with murder needs an attorney who can help you break down the definition of these penal codes into understandable terms. Even more important is your attorney’s ability to apply the specific facts of YOUR case to the law. At MC Criminal Law, we pride ourselves on being more knowledgeable about the facts of your case than anyone else involved. It’s one of the key ways we fight for our clients.

Remember those punishment ranges noted earlier in this blogpost? A good attorney could make years of difference in a person’s life. Reach out now for expert legal advice.


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