What Does the “Degree” (1st, 2nd, or 3rd) of a Crime Mean?
When a felony is qualified as either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree, the number denotes the severity of the offense. Prosecutors, when deciding which charges to bring, consider both the intent of the accused and the context of the crime. In most states, first-degree charges are the most serious form of any crime. In Texas, felonies may be categorized as:
- State jail
As the severity of a crime increases, so does the punishment: A capital felony is punishable by execution, whereas a state jail felony is punishable by between 180 days and 20 years in state jail and a fine of up to $10,000
The Degrees of Homicide Charges in Texas
Most states classify murder as a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd-degree charge. In Texas, this is a much rarer distinction. Criminal homicides are charged using one of four options, each of which encompasses a different degree of severity and can lead to different charges.
The death penalty may be assigned in capital murder cases, the most serious criminal homicide charge. This charge is the only type that’s worse than a first-degree felony. Prosecutors may ask for a capital murder conviction in cases including:
- Murder of a peace officer or firefighter
- Intentional murder committed as part of another crime (kidnapping, arson, etc.)
- Hiring someone to commit murder, or committing murder for payment
- Murder committed while imprisoned or trying to escape prison
- Murder of more than one person during the same crime
- Murder of a child under 15 years of age
When a prosecutor cannot prove capital murder beyond a reasonable doubt, they may ask a juror to convict on a lower murder charge.
A first-degree felony, murder charges are levied when:
- Someone either intentionally kills another or kills them while intending harm
- Someone attempts to injure another while committing or attempting to commit a crime, and their actions result in the other party’s death
Often, those accused of a first-degree felony will argue they were provoked into attacking at the time of the murder. This “sudden passion” defense, if it can be proven, can reduce the murder charge to a second-degree felony.
Manslaughter, because of the lack of intent inferred, is only charged as a second-degree felony. Someone who “recklessly causes the death of an individual” can still be held responsible by the law, but they will not face the same punishments as someone who knowingly and/or intentionally killed another.
Though many states provide a distinction between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, Texas does not. Our code does have separate statutes for cases of vehicular and intoxicated manslaughter.
Criminally Negligent Homicide
Recklessness cannot always be proven when someone’s actions endanger another. In this case, a prosecutor might bring a case of criminally negligent homicide. This charge alleges the accused should have been aware of the risk(s) their actions would cause others and chose to follow through regardless. This is the least serious homicide charge in Texas law, classified as a state jail felony.
What Do I Do if I’m Facing Homicide Charges?
If you’ve been accused of a homicide, there’s no time to waste. Our team at Goza & Carreras can provide you with expert representation shaped by our experience as prosecutors and defenders in criminal trials. We could be able to get your charges reduced or prove your innocence.
Facing criminal accusations can be scary, and you need a knowledgeable advocate on your side. We’ve helped many of our clients receive justice, and we are here to help you, too.
Start building a strong defense with a free consultation. You can call us at (817) 402-2188 or reach out online to schedule a meeting with our team.