In Houston, as well as the rest of Texas, manslaughter is one of the most serious crimes on the books, just below murder. Unlike most states, Texas does not divide manslaughter into “voluntary manslaughter” and “involuntary manslaughter”. Instead, it utilizes three categories of its own – manslaughter, intoxication manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter.
An intentional homicide is classified as murder, not manslaughter. Under Texas law, manslaughter is less serious than murder because it requires you to have acted with only the mental state of “recklessness”. In the context of a manslaughter charge, recklessness means that you knew of, but consciously disregarded, a substantial risk that the death of a human being would occur. This disregard of the risk of death must represent a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person can be expected to observe.
Although the legal definition of “recklessness” is vague, it is certain that it is not enough to have acted without awareness of the risk of death (although such an act might be prosecuted as another offense) – you must have actually known of the risk in order to be convicted of manslaughter.
To obtain a conviction for manslaughter in Texas, the prosecution must prove that you:
(i) acted recklessly
(ii) to cause
(iii) the death of another human being (immediate death is not required).
All three of these elements must be established beyond a reasonable doubt – failure to establish even one of them will result in an acquittal.
To obtain a conviction for intoxication manslaughter, the prosecutor must prove all of the foregoing three elements of ordinary manslaughter, and in addition, that you were legally intoxicated. The intoxicant need not be alcohol – it could be an illegal drug or even a prescription drug. You need not be operating a vehicle to be convicted of this offense – a bar fight might support a conviction, for example.
You cannot escape the charge by showing that you were unaware, for example, that you were driving the wrong way down a one-way street because you were too intoxicated to realize it – your conscious decision to drive while intoxicated is enough to establish the “recklessness” required to convict you. You might have a defense, however, if you can show that your intoxication was involuntary.
To obtain a conviction for vehicular manslaughter, the prosecution must prove that you met all of the foregoing three elements of ordinary manslaughter and were either legally intoxicated, driving negligently or recklessly or racing. The prosecution must also prove that your operation of a vehicle caused the death. Remember that even a boat counts as a “vehicle”. Intoxication is not required for conviction, but intoxication will support a conviction if it is proven.
In Texas, any form of manslaughter is a second-degree felony punishable by:
- 2 to 20 years in state prison; and/or
- A fine of up to $10,000
Houston DWI and criminal defense attorney Mario Madrid has enjoyed nearly two decades practicing law. He has served as both a prosecutor and a judge, and he is a member of the National College of DUI Defense Attorneys. He has been certified as a specialist in Criminal Law, an honor enjoyed by only about ten percent of Texas criminal defense lawyers. If you have been arrested for manslaughter in the Houston metro area, call Madrid Law, PLLC at 713-877-9400 for a free initial consultation.