What is the difference between manslaughter and murder?

Murder generally requires an “intentional” or “knowing” mental state for the offense committed. The mental state requirement for manslaughter is “recklessly.” 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 a second degree felony?

A felony punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine is a second-degree felony in Texas.

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 killed the other person. 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


“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.


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.


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 Criminally Negligent Homicide for instances where a person acts negligently and causes the death of another.

Contact us

If you have been charged with a homicide – from manslaughter to murder, contact us at (817) 203-2220 or online:

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Penal Code Section 19.04


(a)  A person commits an offense if he recklessly causes the death of an individual.

(b)  An offense under this section is a felony of the second degree.