When you hear the terms manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, it may be hard to distinguish between them. We Asked a Dallas homicide defense Lawyer Mick Mickelsen to help us understand.
Under Texas law, there are four types of criminal homicide: capital murder, murder, manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide.
Both manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide involve the death of another person with no intent to kill on the part of the alleged offender. To most people with little exposure to the legal system, the two offenses may seem interchangeable.
Manslaughter, however, as a second-degree felony, carries much harsher penalties than criminally negligent homicide, which is a state jail felony. Those accused of criminal homicide in Texas are often left wondering which offense they will be charged with, and those charged often wonder why they have been charged with one and not the other.
In this article, we provide some clarity on the difference between manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide based on our combined decades of experience defending violent crimes in Texas courts.
Criminally Negligent Homicide vs Manslaughter in Texas
The most simplified differentiation between criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter under Texas law is whether the victim’s death was caused by criminal negligence or recklessness on the part of the alleged offender.
If the alleged offender of the crime acted with criminal negligence, the appropriate charge would be criminally negligent homicide. If the alleged offender acted with recklessness, the appropriate charge would be manslaughter.
What is the difference between criminal negligence and recklessness?
The difference between criminal negligence and recklessness can be difficult to understand. In this section, we explain the definition of each.
Criminal Negligence Defined
Criminal negligence occurs when an individual disregards a reasonable duty they have, and this poses an obvious risk to the lives and safety of others.
Recklessness is more difficult to define. It appears all over the Texas Penal Code as well as in many federal and state laws across the nation. In essence, recklessness is deliberately acting in a way that is likely to cause harm to others without regard for the risk or danger
Criminal negligence vs. recklessness
Some legal experts consider the difference between criminal negligence and recklessness to be that recklessness involves a risk that you were actually aware of, whereas criminal negligence involves a risk that you should have been aware of.
While there are some exceptions, one way to conceptualize the difference is that criminal negligence involves the absence or lack of an action that should have been taken to protect others (i.e. failing to do something you should have done) whereas recklessness involves taking a course of action that causes harm (i.e. doing something that you should not have done).
Criminally Negligent Homicide vs Manslaughter Examples
The best way to illustrate the difference between criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter is through examples.
Example #1 — Irresponsible Use of Firearms
A case of criminally negligent homicide may involve a person failing to follow firearm safety precautions in a manner that results in their firearm going off unexpectedly in a crowded place and killing someone nearby. As the owner of a firearm, it was reasonably within their duty to ensure that they were operating their gun safely. Failing to do so is considered criminal negligence. When this criminal negligence results in a death, criminally negligent homicide has occurred.
Contrast that with this example of manslaughter: a person chooses to fire their gun in the middle of a crowded room, and one of the bullets ends up hitting someone and killing them. Because the offender in this example did not intended to hit or kill the victim, the crime is lacking intent to kill, meaning that they should not be charged with murder or capital murder. However, they did intend to shoot their gun in a crowded room. It is reasonable to assume that the holder of the gun was aware that shooting a gun in a crowded room meant there would be a great risk of hurting or killing someone. By ignoring this risk and choosing to fire their weapon anyway, they were being reckless and committed manslaughter.
Example #2 — Workplace Accident
In this example scenario, you are tasked with safely putting up a shelf in your workplace. You are sufficiently trained and experienced to complete this task successfully, and you know that heavy objects will be stored on the shelf. While putting up the shelf, you do not sufficiently check your work and leave an anchor loose. Later on, when a coworker goes to get something off of the shelf, it collapses on them, killing them. Because your negligence while doing your job caused the shelf to fall on top of them and kill them and it was within your duty to ensure that the shelf was safely put together and secured, this might be criminally negligent homicide.
On the other hand, say you drop a heavy object down a stairwell to avoid having to carry it all the way. There happens to be someone at the bottom and the object strikes them, leading to their death. Because it is reasonable to assume that you knew how potentially dangerous it was to drop the object, this would be manslaughter.
Penalties and Defense Strategies for Criminally Negligent Homicide in Texas
Criminally negligent homicide occurs when an individual allows another person to die due to their own negligent actions.
Criminally negligent homicide penalties
Under the Texas Penal Code, criminally negligent homicide is charged as a state jail felony. It is important to note that state jail felony charges mean that you are not eligible for parole during your sentence. State jail felonies come with the following sentencing guidelines:
- 180 to 2 years in state jail with no possibility of parole
- Up to $2000 in fines
- Possible probation following release
Texas criminally negligent homicide defense strategies
A strong defense for criminally negligent homicide will have to show the jury one or more of the following things:
- The defendant did not cause an unreasonable risk of harm.
- The defendant’s actions were not the actual cause of the victim’s death.
- The defendant did not have a reasonable duty in the case at hand.
Penalties and Defense Strategies for Manslaughter in Texas
Under the Texas Penal Code, manslaughter is defined as “recklessly [causing] the death of an individual.” Unlike many other states, Texas law does not differentiate between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
Texas manslaughter penalties
In Texas, manslaughter is considered a second degree felony. If a defendant is convicted, the punishment may include:
- 2 to 20 years in prison
- Up to $10,000 in fines
- Possible probation following release
How do attorneys defend manslaughter in Texas?
Some potential approaches to defending manslaughter in Texas include making one or more of the following arguments:
- The defendant did not commit the crime.
- The defendant’s actions should be considered negligence or criminal negligence, not recklessness.
- The defendant was not mentally fit to understand the consequences of their actions at the time of the crime.
- The defendant was acting in self-defense.
Dallas Violent Crimes Attorneys — Broden & Mickelsen, LLP
If you have been charged with a violent criminal offense in Texas, it is crucial to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer who has experience handling Texas violent crimes cases. Broden & Mickelsen, LLP provides aggressive and ethical representation to individuals and businesses accused of criminal offenses. The firm accomplishes this through its unique team approach to criminal defense, which involves both partners actively participating in the case.
To achieve a favorable resolution, Broden & Mickelsen, LLP evaluate each case individually and utilize all the resources available. The Texas Board of Legal Specialization has certified criminal defense attorneys Clint Broden and Mick Mickelsen as experts in criminal law for trials and appeals.
Call Broden & Mickelsen, LLP to discuss the details of your case today: (214) 720-9552.
In case of an emergency
(214) 563-3154 (Attorney Clint Broden Mobile)
(214) 563-3157 (Attorney Mick Mickelsen Mobile)
Broden & Mickelsen, LLP Attorneys at Law is located at 2600 State St Dallas, Texas 75204
All of our attorneys are Board-Certified Trial Lawyers who will fight for you just like they fight for their own son or daughter. Individuals who are accused of violent crimes, including those who are suspected of homicide, manslaughter and/or other crimes.. We have helped many clients from the Dallas communities, Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex, Arlington, Plano, Garland, Irving, McKinney. Frisco, Denton, and nearby areas. We bring decades of combined experience to each State and Federal homicide, manslaughter and violent crime defense case.