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Understanding Murder in Dallas, Texas

The crime of murder is categorized as criminal homicide in Dallas and refers to the deliberate killing of another or intending to cause serious bodily injury which results in the death of a person in the course of committing or attempting to commit a felony, the accused performs an act that causes the death of another, they will also be charged for murder. Notably, under Texas law, a person who intends to kill another, but unintentionally kills a different person is guilty of murder. Although the intention was not to cause the death of the other person, the defendant would nonetheless be guilty of murder through the doctrine of transferred intent.

What is First-Degree Murder in Dallas?

In Dallas, first-degree murder covers murder and capital murder. Generally, both charges involve the intentional and premeditated killing of another individual.  A murder charge may mean:  

  • That the accused intentionally or knowingly caused the death of another person
  • That the accused intentionally sought to cause serious bodily injury to another individual which resulted in the death of such person
  • That in the process of committing or attempting to commit another type of felony (other than manslaughter), the accused committed a dangerous act which ultimately led to the death of another individual.

The penalty for murder in Dallas includes incarceration in state prison for 5-99 years. In addition to the sentence, the court may choose to add a maximum fine of up to $10,000 upon conviction.

Capital Murder: In addition to the general first-degree murder charge, Dallas recognizes another type of murder charge known as capital murder. This is a capital crime committed when the defendant does any of the following:

  • Kills a peace officer or fireman acting in official duty and is aware that the person killed holds this position
  • Kills a person during the commission of arson, kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, obstruction or retaliation, or pursuit of a terroristic threat
  • Kills a person in return for remuneration
  • Kills a person while escaping or attempting to escape from prison
  • Kills a prison employee while being an inmate in prison
  • Kills a person while being incarcerated for aggravated kidnapping, sexual assault, or robbery
  • Kills more than one person
  • Kills a person younger than ten years old
  • Kills a judge in retaliation to a decision made during the judge’s service.

A person convicted of capital murder in Dallas will usually face a minimum sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty as the maximum sentence. Such a person must, however, be at least 18 years of age at the time of the crime to have the death penalty imposed. In the event that the death penalty is not sought by the state, the court will usually impose a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole if the defendant is 18 years of age and above.

What is Second-Degree Murder in Dallas?

Although the term second-degree murder is not officially used in Dallas, a murder charge may be reduced to a second-degree felony if found during the trial that such crime was done in the heat of passion and resulted from the impulsive action of the defendant. It is, therefore a requirement that the defendant must have acted impulsively and that the act of murder was not premeditated. In the event where a charge of murder is reduced to a felony in the second degree, the defendant becomes liable for imprisonment for 2 to 20 years and a $10,000 fine.

What is Third-Degree Murder in Dallas?

Dallas does not officially recognize the term third-degree murder; However,  a charge of criminally negligent homicide may be categorized as a felony in the third degree in light of the less severe penalties imposed upon conviction. In Dallas, criminally negligent homicide is committed when a person causes the death of another by acting while being aware of a risk of danger or when they should have been aware. In emergency situations, for example, the law requires a reasonable person to perform certain actions to ensure the safety of others. Failure to perform these actions can result in criminal charges. To be guilty of criminally negligent homicide, it must be shown that:

  • The reasonable duty to prevent the death of an individual was neglected by the defendant
  • The conduct of the defendant directly led to the  death of a person
  • The defendant was aware of the risk created by their conduct.

Upon conviction, the defendant may face imprisonment between 180 days and two years without parole and may pay a fine of up to $10,000. Other penalties include probation and community service.

What is Manslaughter in Dallas?

Recklessly causing another person's death is regarded as manslaughter. To be convicted of this offense, the defendant must have been aware that their conduct could lead to the crime but continued to perform such conduct regardless of the substantial and unjustifiable risks. The defendant's culpable state of mind, therefore, represents a major distinguishing factor between manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide under Texas law. Since recklessness requires more awareness of the risks involved in the defendant's conduct, the charge of manslaughter is considered a second-degree felony. The offense is punishable by imprisonment for 2-20 years and a fine of up to $10,000. In Dallas, there is no clear-cut distinction between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, as both may fall under a single charge. There are, however other designations of manslaughter such as vehicular manslaughter and intoxication manslaughter.

What is Vehicular Manslaughter?

Vehicular manslaughter in Dallas refers to the reckless driving of a motor vehicle or vessel which results in the death of another. The charge of vehicular manslaughter may also arise when the defendant becomes recklessly involved in a race or other kinds of acceleration contest which resulted in the victim's death. The offense is a second-degree felony punishable by imprisonment for 2-20 years and a $10,000 fine. However, the punishment may be increased to 5-99 years where the victim of the recklessness is a peace officer, firefighter, or emergency medical personnel. Other penalties include probation and community service.

What is Involuntary Manslaughter?

Involuntary manslaughter usually refers to the unintentional killing of a person resulting from recklessness, criminal negligence, or committing an offense in the state of intoxication. In Dallas, intoxication manslaughter is considered as a form of involuntary manslaughter in which the defendant recklessly causes the death of another while being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The defendant can therefore be convicted of this offense if found to have a .08 blood alcohol content level or to have lost the normal use of mental or physical faculties as a result of the use of certain substances. The offense is a felony in the second degree punishable by imprisonment for 2-20 years and a $10,000. The offense may also attract a probationary community supervision sentence and 240 hours of community service.

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

A criminal defense attorney in Texas understands the law and the criminal justice system and can offer valuable legal counsel and representation to the accused in a murder trial. In light of the severity of a murder charge and the attendant consequences resulting from a conviction, an experienced criminal defense lawyer will assist the defendant throughout the trial process, from the arrest stage to the sentencing and appeal stage. Indeed, the outcome of most murder cases in relation to the defendant will usually depend on the strength of the defenses argued in court and the ability to create reasonable doubts to secure a dismissal of the charge or at least to reduce culpability. A skilled criminal defense lawyer will usually rely on any of the following defenses, including:

  • Self-defense: In Dallas, it is permissible for the defendant to use force to prevent an unlawful attack by the victim. There must, however, be a reasonable belief that the use of force is warranted and justified under the circumstances.
  • Defense of Others: A person is allowed to use reasonable force in preventing a third party from being harmed or injured by the victim. As in the case of self-defense, the defendant must prove that there were reasonable grounds to fear imminent bodily injury against the third party.
  • Defense of Property: The defendant in possession of the property may use force against a trespasser or any person interfering with the lawful use of such property. The force used must be reasonable and proportionate to the victim's attack.
  • Defense of Alibi: This defense involves evidence to show that the defendant was somewhere else at the time the crime was committed and was not present at the crime scene. Credible witness testimony and other forms of evidence may be admitted to support this defense. Once successfully proven, the murder charge is dismissed by the court.
  • Exercise of Official Duty: It is a defense for law enforcement officers to show that the killing of a person was done in the course of official duty. For a successful defense, it must be shown that the victim was not killed as a result of the negligence or recklessness of the public officer.
  • Accident or Misfortune: It is a defense to a murder charge in Dallas to show that the killing of another was done accidentally in the course of performing an otherwise lawful activity. This defense reduces the defendant's culpability for murder to manslaughter, depending on the particular conduct or action.