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By Benson Varghese

Published on: November 16th, 2013 at 9:08 AM
Last Updated: September 2nd, 2020 at 9:40 AM

What is the difference between manslaughter and murder?

The difference between manslaughter and murder comes down to the defendant’s mental state at the time they caused the death of another person. Murder generally requires an “intentional” or “knowing” mental state for the offense committed. In other words, the defendant intentionally or knowingly caused the death of another person. The mental state requirement for manslaughter is “recklessly,” meaning the defendant’s reckless actions caused the death. The practical effect of this is when a person is charged with manslaughter, their punishment is capped at 20 years in prison, while a person facing a murder charge is facing up to life in prison.

murder vs manslaughter

What is manslaughter in Texas?

In the simplest terms, recklessly causing the death of a person is manslaughter in Texas. The potential punishment range for manslaughter is 2 to 20 years in prison, making it a second-degree felony.

What is murder in Texas?

Under the Texas Penal Code, there are three ways a person can commit the offense of murder. If he or she:

  • intentionally or knowingly causes the death of another person;
  • intends to cause serious bodily injury and commits and clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual; or
  • commits or attempts to commit a felony, other than manslaughter, and in the course of the felonious behavior, commits an act clearly dangerous to human life and causes a death.

Murder is a first-degree felony, punishable by five years to up to life in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.

How do you know if someone will be charged with murder or manslaughter?

The difference between murder and manslaughter comes down to what was in the person’s mind when they caused the death of the other person. If it was intentional, the charge will be murder. If it was reckless, the charge will be manslaughter. Let’s take a look at the possible mental states for these two offenses.

I often use the following example to describe the difference between intentionally, knowingly, and recklessly.

Let’s imagine you are in a hotel room several stories up from the street. Imagine the hotel is in a busy downtown area. Now imagine taking the television from the hotel room and setting it on the ledge of the open window.

culpable mental states texas

Intentional

“Intentionally” means that is the actor’s conscious objective to cause the result. So in this example, it would be an intentional act to look out the window, see the busy street, take aim at a person, and push the television so it falls directly on that person.

Knowing

A person acts knowingly when he is aware of the nature of his conduct. It would be a knowing act to look out the window, see a busy street, and push the television off the ledge. You do not intend to hit anyone, but you were aware that by dropping the tv, a person would be struck and injured.

Reckless

A person acts recklessly when he is aware of, but consciously disregards, a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint. It would be reckless to push the tv out of a hotel window without knowing or checking what was below. Here, you should have been aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result of hurting someone would occur.

What is intoxication manslaughter?

Intoxication manslaughter is also a second-degree felony, but does not have a mental state requirement. (That is, it is not required to show the person acted recklessly.) Instead, it adds the element of intoxication. Learn more about intoxication manslaughter in Texas.

What is criminally negligent homicide?

Texas has a ciminally negligent homicide for instances in which a person acts negligently and causes the death of another. We often see this charge in accidents.

Contact us

If you have been charged with any category of homicide, contact us at (817) 203-2220 for a free consultation with an experienced homicide lawyer. We have handled every type of homicide charge, ranging from capital murder to criminally negligent homicide. When the stakes are this high, it’s imperative that you have the very best defense possible.