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Understanding Murder in El Paso, Texas

According to Texas Penal Code § 19.02, murder is a type of homicide crime in El Paso, Texas. Actions that constitute murder in the city include:

  • Intentionally causing the death of another person
  • Intending to inflict significant physical harm and commit an act that is detrimental to human life, that results in a person’s death.
  • Perpetrating or attempting to commit a felony other than manslaughter, resulting in another person's death.

Because homicide crimes such as murder are considered the most brutal acts in the criminal justice system, they are punished severely with hefty fines, lengthy prison sentences, and, in extreme situations, death. The severity of a murder offense and its penalty is determined by the degree of the murder crime. Depending on the facts of the case, a murder charge may be classified as first or second-degree murder.

What is First-Degree Murder in El Paso?

First-degree murder is a criminal charge brought against a defendant for deliberate and premeditated killing. The act is prosecuted as first-degree murder because it was planned in advance, and the perpetrator killed the victim intentionally. 

First-degree murder, charged as capital murder under Texas Law, and the offender may face the death penalty if convicted. Before a defendant can be convicted of capital murder, the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual committed first-degree murder and that some form of aggravating factor accompanied the act, including:

  • Killing a peace officer or firefighter who was performing a legally mandated duty at the time of the crime
  • Killing someone while committing or trying to commit another felony, such as kidnapping, arson, assault, burglary, robbery, or serious sexual assault
  • Killing another person for compensation or promise of recompense
  • Promising or giving compensation for murder
  • Killing more than one person
  • Killing a minor that is six years old or younger.

First-degree murder (capital murder) in El Paso carries a severe penalty of either death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, if the defendant is below 17 years old or deemed incapacitated (mentally handicapped or insane), the individual will be spared the death sentence.

What is Second-Degree Murder in El Paso?

Second-degree murder is an incidental homicide caused by actions that the assailant knew or should have known could result in someone's death. For instance, getting into a fight and battering someone to death could be considered second-degree murder. Although the fight in this scenario was not premeditated, if the offender knew or reasonably should have known that the attacks could be lethal, the perpetrator could face a second-degree murder charge. 

It is important to note that second-degree murder appears quite similar to first-degree murder, but the distinction is in the forethought. Consequently, while both degrees of murder necessitates intent for a conviction, only first-degree murder requires premeditation and deliberation.

Second-degree murder is a first-degree felony punishable by a prison sentence ranging from 5 to 99 years in state prison. It may also entail a fine of up to $10,000. If the court determines that the defendant acted in the heat of passion, the charge may be reduced to a second-degree felony that carries a sentence of 2 and 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.

What is Third-Degree Murder in El Paso?

In general, someone can be charged with third-degree murder if they accidentally and unintentionally cause the death of another person while engaging in a potentially dangerous activity. Unlike first and second-degree murder charges, there is no requirement for criminal intent in third-degree murder allegations. 

What is Manslaughter in El Paso?

Manslaughter in El Paso is the charge brought against an offender for their reckless actions that result in the loss of human life. In this case, there is no premeditation or intent to kill. While the crime is considered severe, it does not rise to the level of a murder charge.

Manslaughter is classified as a second-degree felony. Individuals charged with this offense risk prison sentences ranging from two to twenty years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

What is Vehicular Manslaughter?

Vehicular manslaughter occurs when reckless or irresponsible conduct behind the wheel causes someone’s death. An offender's action is deemed reckless if the motorist must have been aware of a considerable and unjustifiable risk that the action posed but disregarded it. In other words, the driver must have been aware of the outcome but actively chose to ignore it. Examples of reckless actions behind the wheel include driving in the wrong direction or at an unsafe speed.

Another reckless behavior that might result in vehicular manslaughter is operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, this act is classified as a distinct offense known as intoxication manslaughter under Texas law. This crime is charged when a person kills someone while operating a vehicle (car, boat, or aircraft) under the influence of alcohol or another controlled substance. Before the prosecution can secure a conviction for this offense, they must establish that drunk driving was the cause of the fatal collision. 

Vehicular manslaughter and intoxicated manslaughter have similar penalties. Depending on the severity of the case, the penalties may include incarceration, probation, license suspension, and other consequences. Overall, they are charged as second-degree felonies, and a guilty offender might face the following penalties:

  • Two to twenty years in jail
  • A maximum fine of $10,000
  • Probation.

What is Voluntary Manslaughter?

Voluntary manslaughter is prosecuted as manslaughter in El Paso. It is a deliberate killing in passion without forethought or premeditation. This means that the crime occurred in the heat of the moment when the perpetrator was unexpectedly moved by emotion and did not intend to commit the crime. Hence, it is possible to commit voluntary manslaughter out of provoked wrath or fury, but the provocation must be proven. Guilty individuals may face a term of up to 20 years in prison as well as large fines.

What is Involuntary Manslaughter?

In general, involuntary manslaughter is a criminal offense charged when a person commits an unlawful killing without intending to inflict significant harm or death. This crime can be committed due to provoked wrath, desperation, or terror. In this case, rather than intent, the alleged killer caused death by recklessness or gross negligence.

Recklessness in this context implies performing unlawful or dangerous acts without consideration for the possible repercussions. Since Texas law does not distinguish between manslaughter charges, any conduct constituting an element of involuntary manslaughter will be prosecuted as manslaughter. It may also be charged as criminally negligent homicide, depending on the facts surrounding the crime.

Criminally negligent homicide, as defined in Section 19.05 of the Texas Penal Code, occurs when a person causes the death of another by criminal negligence or carelessness. A person commits criminal negligence when they should have known that their actions represent a considerable and justified risk of causing the death of another person.

Criminally negligent homicide is prosecuted in El Paso as a state jail felony, the city's least serious category of felony charges. However, the consequences of a conviction are not lenient. The offense carries a minimum sentence of 180 days in state jail and a maximum sentence of 2 years. It also involves penalties of up to $10,000.

What Type of Lawyer do I Need for a Murder Charge in El Paso?

A criminal defense attorney is skilled and knowledgeable in the Texas criminal justice system. The criminal penalties of murder offenses are harsh. As a result, people accused of criminally negligent homicide, manslaughter, or murder may benefit from contacting a criminal defense attorney in Texas. An attorney can assist them in understanding the allegations they face and building a strong criminal defense to reduce or dismiss the charges.

Homicide cases demand an experienced criminal defense attorney with a track record of successfully defending clients charged with homicide and other related offenses.

A lawyer may raise the following defenses on a defendant's behalf:

  • Self-defense 

Generally, a person has the legal right to use force against an aggressor or an attacker. As a result, defendants accused of murder may be justified in killing someone else if they acted in self-defense or defense of another.

However, this defense strategy has its limitations. First, the defendant must not be the aggressor or instigator in the conflict. Second, the defendant cannot claim self-defense if the other party only engaged in a verbal provocation. This means that a defendant cannot claim self-defense if they fatally hurt a victim who was merely hurling insults.

Finally, the force used in retaliation or defense must be proportionate to the situation and justifiable given the facts of the case. For example, a defendant cannot claim self-defense if they repeatedly stabbed an aggressor with a dangerous object when the other person only threw a punch.

  • Insanity

This defense might be invoked if the defendant suffered from a mental illness or defect that made them unaware that their actions were unlawful. While this defense may exclude the defendant from the death penalty and lengthy prison time, it comes at a cost.

If a defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity, the individual is not free to go. Instead, they will be transferred to a state mental institution for a period that cannot exceed the maximum years of incarceration that would have resulted from a guilty verdict.

  • Constitutional infringements

Regardless of being charged with murder, a defendant is entitled to some legal rights under the Constitution of the United States of America. If these rights are infringed during the investigation or trial, it may help the defendant's case. Such constitutional violations may include improper treatment of the defendant, unauthorized search and seizure, forced confessions, and illegally obtaining evidence. If the defense attorney can prove that these violations happened, the murder charges may be withdrawn, or a plea deal for a reduced penalty may be offered.