Understanding the Different Degrees of Murder in Texas

In Texas, there are varying degrees of murder, but the state doesn’t employ terms that include the word degree, such as the first-degree and second-degree charges that many states use. Murder charges are among the most serious criminal charges you can face. If a murder charge of any degree has been levied against you, it’s time to reach out for the professional legal guidance of a seasoned Houston murder defense attorney who has a wide range of impressive experience successfully guiding challenging murder cases like yours toward favorable resolutions.

Murder Charges

If you have been arrested for a murder charge, the stakes are exceptionally high and working closely with a practiced Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer from the outset is imperative. Murder charges, which apply to cases in which the defendant is accused of intentionally or knowingly causing someone else’s death, are almost always first-degree felonies. Additional acts that can lead to murder charges include:

  • The defendant intended to cause serious bodily injury and the clearly dangerous act instead caused someone else’s death.
  • Someone else’s death was caused during the defendant’s commission of a felony, which can elevate a manslaughter charge to murder.

There are also instances when the murderous act is deemed a crime of passion, which reduces the murder charge to a second-degree felony. The defendant in question, however, must convincingly demonstrate there was adequate cause for the sudden passion to arise. Without this, the first-degree felony charge stands.

Specific Defenses

It’s important to point out there are also highly specific circumstances when killing another person is considered legally justifiable, including:

  • When the accused was defending themself from harm or engaging in self-defense
  • When the accused was defending a third person
  • Certain instances when the accused was defending their own property

Each of these represents a specific defense to the charge of murder and the specifics of the defense must apply exactly.


For first-degree felony murder charges in the State of Texas, the following sentencing rules apply:

  • From 5 to 99 years in prison or a life sentence
  • Fines of up to $10,000

After a murder conviction, probation is not a possibility.

Capital Murder Charges

The murder charge is elevated to a capital murder charge when any of the following apply:

  • The victim was a police officer or firefighter who was in the line of duty at the time or was known by the accused to be a police officer or firefighter at the time.
  • The murder happened in the course of the defendant attempting to engage in aggravated sexual assault, burglary, robbery, arson, kidnapping, obstruction or retaliation or certain kinds of a terroristic threat.
  • The murder was for hire of for the promise of payment.
  • The murder occurred when the defendant was escaping or attempting to escape from prison.
  • The victim was employed by a prison and the defendant was incarcerated in the prison at the time of the murder.
  • The murder took place when the defendant was already incarcerated for murder or capital murder or while serving a life sentence for aggravated sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping or aggravated robbery,
  • More than one person was murdered during the course of the crime in question.
  • The victim was younger than 10 years old.
  • The victim was targeted for being a judge.

For a Capital Murder Charge to Be Levied

Before the prosecution can bring a capital murder charge against someone, the matter must be addressed by the presiding judge. It is their job to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the act in question qualifies as capital murder before proceeding with the capital murder charge.


A capital murder conviction has only two sentencing options, which include the death penalty or life in prison with no possibility of parole. While the death penalty is implemented infrequently, it’s important to recognize, since 1976 according to Statista Texas has put more people to death than nearly all the other states combined.

If you are facing capital murder charges, you need a formidable Houston murder defense attorney who has the keen legal skill, insight and drive to zealously fight for your legal rights in focused pursuit of your case’s best possible outcome.


The charge of manslaughter applies when someone recklessly causes the death of another. With manslaughter charges, there is no element of intent or premeditation, which keeps manslaughter charges a level below murder charges. Reckless in this context refers to a defendant who is aware of the immense risk involved but who consciously disregards it, causing someone else to be killed in the process. Manslaughter charges break down into two basic categories.

Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter is the charge that applies when the defendant accidentally kills the victim with no intention of causing them harm, which can take the following two forms:

  • The victim’s death was the result of the defendant committing another crime, such as a serious moving violation.
  • The victim’s death was the result of a dangerous act or accident that could have been prevented.

Fatal car accidents caused by a motorist’s serious impairment often lead to involuntary manslaughter charges. A conviction can bring a prison sentence of 2-20 years and fines up to $10,000.

Voluntary Manslaughter Charges

The charge of voluntary manslaughter applies when the act is intentional like murder but is considered in the moment and without the premeditation necessary for murder to apply. Examples include acts that are provoked by sudden rage or anger, but this provocation must be proven. The penalties for a conviction mirror those for involuntary manslaughter

One of the critical roles your practiced murder defense attorney will capably fill, short of having your charge dismissed is knowledgeably advocating for the least serious applicable charge and proceeding to fiercely defend your rights from there.

Criminally Negligent Homicide

When criminal negligence, which is not premeditated, leads to someone else’s death, criminally negligent homicide charges apply. Prime examples include all the following:

  • Accidentally shooting someone
  • Causing a life-threatening accident but not immediately calling for help
  • Engaging in reckless driving that proves fatal

A strong focus in criminally negligent homicide cases is on what the defendant did know and what the defendant reasonably should have known regarding the level of risk involved in the act that ultimately proved fatal. Criminally negligent homicide is a state jail felony that can carry from 180 days to 2 years in a state jail and up to $10,000 in fines.

Reach Out for the Skilled Legal Guidance of an Experienced Houston Murder Defense Attorney Today

The accomplished murder defense attorneys at The Law Office of Bryan Fagan recognize the immense gravity of the charge you face and dedicate their imposing practice to successfully champion for the legal rights of clients like you. We are committed to building your strongest defense and employing the full force of our keen legal skill on your behalf, so please don’t wait to contact us at 281-810-9760 for more information today.

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