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What does Texas law say about manslaughter?

Were you recently in an accident that caused the death of another person? Did police believe that your actions were reckless and arrest you? If so, you could now face charges for manslaughter.

Other states split the crime of manslaughter into involuntary and voluntary manslaughter, but not here in Texas. In this state manslaughter is one crime, but if certain circumstances exist, additional penalties could apply.

What makes manslaughter different from murder?

Both crimes are the unlawful killing of another person, and that may be where the similarities end. In manslaughter, intent, knowledge and premeditation are not necessary. The defining feature of this crime is recklessness. This could encompass a lot of different situations, but when it comes to car accidents, the state does treat them somewhat differently.

For instance, in the case of a fatal crash, if you face criminal charges, it could be for either vehicular manslaughter or intoxication manslaughter. Vehicular manslaughter means that a vehicle was the instrument used to cause the death through a driver's reckless actions. As you may surmise, intoxication manslaughter means that the driver was intoxicated at the time of a deadly crash.

What potential penalties come with manslaughter?

Because manslaughter is a second-degree felony, anyone convicted faces fines up to $10,000 and anywhere from two to twenty years in a Texas prison. This is where any aggravating circumstances may come in and increase the penalties you may face if convicted.

What potential defenses are there for manslaughter?

In some cases involving manslaughter charges, those accused may be able to use defenses such as the "heat of passion," self-defense or insanity. However, these are not the only ways to deal with these charges. When it comes to vehicular manslaughter and intoxication manslaughter, the details of the car accident and the circumstances under which it occurred take center stage.

A thorough investigation into the crash is essential. Talking to witnesses, reviewing police reports and possibly even conducting an accident reconstruction may be needed as part of preparing a defense. In addition, you may want to scrutinize any contact you had with police in order to ensure that no violations of your rights occurred. Regardless of the circumstances, the law guarantees the opportunity to defend yourself against the charges. You have the right to have a legal advocate by your side throughout the process.

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John M. Petruzzi, Attorney at Law
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