Houston Murder Defense Lawyers
We Defend Clients in Fort Bend and Harris Counties
A murder charge is as serious as it gets in the legal system, and in the state of Texas, it might even lead to the death penalty. Defendants rely on their defense attorney to have a firm grasp of the law; of the level of evidence the state must bring and of the options available to a district attorney in plea bargaining.
When a person is charged with murder it requires more than simply showing that their action led to another person’s death. In the strict legal sense, murder means that the defendant intentionally and knowingly took an action that was dangerous and that such action resulted in that person’s death.
A prime example of such a dangerous action would be the commission of another felony offense. The person that attempts theft at a jewel shop might be assuming no one will be there. There’s no intent to commit murder, but the action undertaken (burglary and theft) was done so intentionally and knowingly. And when the store owner turned out to be working late in their office and was fatally shot, a murder charge can be added by the prosecution.
What Is the Difference Between a 1st Degree and 2nd Degree Murder?
The distinction between 1st and 2nd degree can be quite significant and relies on a defense lawyer establishing that a crime of passion took place. This requires showing that the murder took place in response to an act by another person and this act provoked extreme emotion. The person who catches their spouse in the act of having an affair and shoots the lover is a classic example of a crime of passion.
A 2nd-degree murder conviction can result in a sentence as low as 2 years and no longer than 20 years. That’s quite a difference from the 5 years to 99 year range a judge has at their disposal in a 1st-degree case.
Call a Houston murder defense attorney from this office to fight for your acquittal or for a plea bargain that could spare 20 years or more of your life. Reach out at (713) 597-6562 or contact us online.
Capital murder cases are the ones where the death penalty can be placed on the table by the D.A. To qualify as capital murder, the killing must have met specific conditions–the murder of a police officer is one example. Murder done in exchange for money can result in a capital charge for both the hitman and the person who hired them. Killing someone while in prison or attempting to escape can be considered capital murder.
In all criminal cases, the prosecution has an obligation to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That is, the jury cannot just think that a defendant probably committed the crime. The jury must be unanimously convinced that the defendant’s guilt is so clearly established that no reasonable person could think otherwise.
A capital murder case requires the beyond a reasonable doubt threshold to be met two different times. The first is in establishing that the crime itself even qualifies as a capital murder. The second is in regard to the defendant’s guilt. A defense lawyer must strongly challenge the prosecution, constantly seeking to raise doubt in the minds of the jury.
One important defense strategy that can be employed is challenging the admissibility of evidence. The prosecution is duty-bound to follow strict procedures, aimed at protecting the constitutional rights of everyone in the gathering of evidence. That means having probable cause for getting search warrants and staying with the confines of those warrants, among much else.
The failure of police to follow these protocols can result in evidence being eliminated before juries have a chance to assess it. Being able to eliminate evidence from consideration gives a good defense lawyer more room to create reasonable doubt with the jurors.
What Is the Legal Meaning of Manslaughter?
We noted at the top that a core prerequisite for murder is the defendant acting in a way that is knowing and intentional. What if the defendant didn’t take the actions that led to a person’s death, but still behaved recklessly? In these cases, manslaughter is the appropriate charge. A prime example of manslaughter is driving recklessly. The person who drives 50mph through a school zone would be an example of reckless behavior. Certainly, driving while intoxicated qualifies. In a case like this, manslaughter can be added to a DUI charge.
Texas treats manslaughter as a 2nd-degree felony and the sentence can go as high as 20 years imprisonment. It could also be as low as 2 years.
Is Negligent Homicide Worse Than Manslaughter?
Negligence is a term commonly used in personal injury law and refers broadly to the failure to exercise a reasonable standard of care in whatever the circumstance was. Let’s say someone has a heart attack at the office. They have one colleague they interact with regularly, and that colleague sees the person on the ground, but does not act. They wait a good 15 or 20 minutes before getting around to calling 911. By that time, it’s too late. The person who had the heart attack is dead. The person who did not immediately call 911 failed to exercise the standard of care that a reasonable person would have in this situation.
Now, negligent homicide still has a burden of proof that must be met. Is the prosecution certain the defendant knew their colleague was on the ground? Perhaps the defendant was walking by the office in a hurry and simply didn’t notice. Does the defendant have a motive? If they were in line for the now-deceased person’s job, the answer would be yes. But what if they had a great working relationship? Motive in this case now may be lacking.
Furthermore, do we know that negligence–even if proven–is the cause of death? Medical experts would have to testify as to whether the deceased could have lived had action been taken faster. It’s the attorney’s job to make sure the jurors know the full story. Negligent homicide can result in anywhere from six months to 2 years in prison.
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There are a wide range of strategies a skilled defense lawyer can take. We’ve alluded to some of them here. Self-defense is another viable defense. Furthermore, a part of the defense lawyer’s job is to make the prosecution see the value of coming in with a lower charge. When a lesser charge might result in twenty extra years on the defendant’s life, every avenue must be explored.
Carter Law has spent 15 years going down every avenue on behalf of our clients. We’re proud of our detailed and nuanced understanding of the law, and the tenacity with which we press the prosecution every step of the way. Even more than that though, we’re proud of the results–over 1,000 documented wins.