Manslaughter: Texas Laws, Definitions, and Penalties

Manslaughter Laws in Texas

In Texas, taking a human life is a serious event that can have severe consequences. Even when this kind of incident occurs accidentally, criminal charges can still be filed. When a person is killed as the result of negligence or recklessness, manslaughter charges can be filed. The result can be imprisonment and fines for the person accused of the crime.

Manslaughter charges are distinct from murder charges, although they are still very serious. The main distinction between manslaughter charges and murder charges is the issue of intent. When a person intentionally kills another person, they can be charged with murder. However, if an accident or reckless actions result in a death, manslaughter charges can be filed.


What Is Manslaughter?

In the state of Texas, manslaughter is considered a type of criminal homicide along with murder. According to Section 19.04 of the Texas Penal Code, manslaughter occurs when:

  • A person recklessly causes the death of an individual

For the purposes of the law, a person can be considered to behave recklessly if they commit an action without the appropriate amount of care and caution. Engaging in a behavior that has the risk of death or injury can lead to manslaughter charges if a person dies as a direct result of the action and appropriate safety precautions were not followed.

Legal Examples

There are many ways that ordinary situations can lead to manslaughter charges if safety rules are not followed. Even seemingly simple actions can quickly become dangerous and lethal, leading to criminal charges and the possibility of a legal conviction.

For example, Joe and Randall head out to the woods to try out Joe’s new gun. Joe purchased a pistol and they want to get in some target practice. Joe loads the pistol, cocks it so that it is ready to fire and hands it to Randall without warning him about the loaded gun. Randall grabs the gun by the grip and accidentally squeezes the trigger, firing a round into his own chest. He dies as a result of the injury and Joe is charged with manslaughter. This is because Joe handled a loaded firearm recklessly, without the appropriate care and caution.

In another example, Marcia is driving along a county road late at night. She has just left a local bar and she has had several alcoholic drinks. She is speeding along the road and taking turns at excessive speed. She strikes a person walking along the road and the man dies as a result of the injuries. Marcia can be arrested and charged with manslaughter because she drove while intoxicated and navigated a road without the appropriate amount of caution that the situation required.

Manslaughter vs. Murder

The previous examples outlined situations in which manslaughter charges can be applied. These charges are distinct from murder charges, mainly due to the issue of intent.

For example, if a person gets drunk in a bar and then meets a person with whom they are having a dispute, gets into a fight and kills that person, murder charges can be filed. This is because the person who initiated the incident had the specific intent to harm or kill another person.

If that same person got drunk and drove home, causing an accident which results in a death, they could be charged with manslaughter. This is because they did not have the specific intent to harm another person, but they engaged in a dangerous behavior without exercising the appropriate amount of care and caution. Because alcohol reduces a person’s ability to behave safely and rationally, drinking and driving is considered reckless behavior. Driving under the influence is reckless and a person driving drunk who causes a fatal accident can be charged with manslaughter.

Legal Penalties

According to the Texas Penal Code, an act of manslaughter is considered a felony of the second degree.

A conviction for manslaughter can lead to:

  • Imprisonment in Texas state prison for a term of two to 20 years
  • A fine of up to $10,000

In certain cases, a person can face enhanced or additional penalties for a manslaughter conviction. For example, a person who is convicted of vehicular manslaughter for causing an accident while driving drunk may face enhanced penalties. Also, a person who has been previously convicted of DWI may face enhanced penalties if they are convicted of vehicular manslaughter while driving intoxicated. This can lead to longer jail sentences, heavier fines and the loss of driving privileges.

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