Texas Laws on Criminally Negligent Homicide
Taking the life of another person is one of the most serious offenses that can be committed in Texas. There are a range of criminal charges that can be applied in a case involving the killing of another person. For example, the most serious charge of this type is capital murder. On the other end of the spectrum of criminal charges related to killings is criminally negligent homicide.
This is a unique criminal charge that is applied only in particular situations. While still a very serious offense, it is punished less harshly than murder or manslaughter. This is primarily due to the issue of intent.
What Is Criminally Negligent Homicide?
According to Section 19.05 of the Texas Penal Code, criminally negligent homicide is an act in which a person causes the death of another by criminal negligence. To understand this offense, it’s helpful to know the legal definition of criminal negligence.
The Texas Penal Code explains that a reasonable person can be expected to perform certain actions in an emergency situation. For example, a person who gets into a car accident is expected to stop, render aid if necessary, and call for help if it is needed. Failing to do these things can result in criminal charges.
Similarly, Texas citizens are expected to behave in a way that does not endanger the safety or lives of others.
For example, imagine that Susan is a contractor who builds shelves for a hardware store. Susan does not use the proper tools, measurements or safety precautions in her work. As a result, the shelves topple over when they are loaded with merchandise, striking a customer and killing him. Susan may be charged with criminally negligent homicide because she:
- Intentionally neglected proper safety and building procedures even though she was aware of the risk
- Created a dangerous situation by omitting safety procedures
- Committed an action that directly resulted in the death of another person
Criminally Negligent Homicide vs. Manslaughter
Criminally negligent homicide is similar to another criminal offense known as manslaughter. In terms of punishment, criminally negligent homicide is not as severe as manslaughter. However, these two charges share some characteristics.
For example, they both involve the killing of another person without the element of premeditation. Manslaughter, however, refers to the death of another person caused by recklessness. A person who commits a “heat of passion” killing may be charged with manslaughter because they acted with disregard for another person’s life, even though they did not plan to. Also, a person who fires a gun randomly and kills another person may be charged with manslaughter because they recklessly disregarded gun safety.
Criminally negligent homicide is a distinct charge because it refers to a death that is caused by a person who omitted certain actions even though they should know better. For example, a person who fails to help a person that they have injured may be charged with this offense if that person dies as a result of their injury.
How It’s Prosecuted
A person who is charged with criminally negligent homicide will usually face prosecution that attempts to establish their liability. In order to secure a conviction, the prosecution must prove that:
- The defendant neglected their reasonable duty to prevent a death
- The defendant’s actions directly caused a death
- The defendant was aware of the risk created by their actions
If the prosecution can prove these elements, the defendant may be convicted on their charges.
In the state of Texas, a conviction for criminally negligent manslaughter can carry serious penalties. For example, a person convicted of this offense may face:
- Six months or up to 2 years in state jail
- A fine of up to $10,000
- Probation and community service
A person convicted of this offense will not be eligible for parole. Additionally, a person who commits criminally negligent homicide while on the job may have difficulty finding employment in a similar field.
A criminal defense attorney may attempt to fight charges of criminally negligent homicide by arguing on the issues of risk and causation. For example, a defense attorney could argue that the defendant did not create an unreasonable risk because they have done a similar action in the past without bad results.
The attorney may also try to argue that the victim did not die as a direct result of the defendant’s neglect. They could try to argue that the victim would have died whether or not the defendant offered help or called emergency services.
If the defense attorney can convince the jury that the defendant was unaware of a risk created by their actions or that their actions had no effect on the outcome, the charges might be dropped.
Do you know someone that is being charged with criminally negligent homicide? Getting legal representation as quickly as possible is incredibly important. Attorney Matthew Sharp will fight for your rights.