In Texas, drivers who operate motor vehicles in a negligent or reckless manner or drive under the influence can be charged with vehicular manslaughter or homicide if they cause the death of another person.
It is advisable to consult with an experienced lawyer to understand when and who can be charged with vehicular manslaughter and related criminal offenses. Our Belton criminal defense attorneys at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard are prepared to help you protect your rights and build a strong defense.
Types of Vehicular Manslaughter and Homicide in Texas
Texas Penal Code recognizes that most drivers who operate their vehicles negligently, recklessly, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs do not intend to kill another individual. For this reason, most traffic-related fatalities lack the intent to commit a crime.
That is why vehicular manslaughter charges exist. While both manslaughter and murder involve the killing of another individual, the former lacks the intention to kill the victim. In other words, you can be charged with murder if you had the intent to kill the victim or had a reason for the killing.
Manslaughter, on the other hand, refers to an unintentional killing of another person as a result of negligence, recklessness, or intoxication. Texas law recognizes three main types of manslaughter and homicide charges related to operating a motor vehicle:
Vehicular manslaughter (Texas Penal Code § 19.04)
Criminally negligent homicide (Texas Penal Code § 19.05)
Intoxication manslaughter (Texas Penal Code § 49.08)
While murder charges presume that the accused had a reason for killing the victim or intent to kill, manslaughter charges presume that the victim was killed due to the defendant’s negligence, recklessness, or intoxication.
While manslaughter charges are associated with less serious penalties than murder charges, they are still quite harsh compared to other offenses.
What is Vehicular Manslaughter in Texas?
An estimated over 3,600 people die in motor vehicle accidents in Texas each year. The vast majority of these deaths are not intentional. Common contributors to traffic fatalities are distracted driving, speeding, and drunk driving.
Motorists know that exceeding the speed limit, texting while driving, and getting behind the wheel while intoxicated can pose a danger to themselves and others. If a driver engages in any of these acts or any other act that carries “a substantial and unjustifiable risk to others” and someone is killed due to the driver’s actions, that driver may face vehicular manslaughter charges.
Note: The victim does not necessarily have to die at the scene of the crash for manslaughter charges to apply. A driver can be charged with vehicular manslaughter even if the victim dies weeks or months after the accident as long as the injuries were the direct cause of the death.
What is Criminally Negligent Homicide in Texas?
Sometimes, a person may act recklessly or negligently without knowing how dangerous the act is. Texas law recognizes the difference between disregarding a known danger and not knowing the danger at all.
If a person causes someone else’s death because they did not know how dangerous their actions are, they may face criminal charges for criminally negligent homicide in Texas. While criminally negligent homicide charges are less severe than other manslaughter charges, it can be difficult to prove that you were not aware of the risks associated with your actions. For this reason, it is advisable to contact a skilled criminal defense attorney the help you prove the lack of knowledge.
What is Intoxication Manslaughter in Texas?
If a driver who caused someone else’s death had alcohol or drugs in their system at the time of the deadly accident, they could be charged with intoxication manslaughter in Texas.
The charge applies to the following machines if the operator’s intoxication results in someone else’s death:
Amusement park rides
Intoxication manslaughter is a serious charge in Texas, which is why it is vital to contact a knowledgeable attorney to protect your freedom and future.
What Are the Penalties for Vehicular Manslaughter and Homicide in Texas?
The penalties associated with manslaughter and homicide convictions in Texas depend on the circumstances of the offense. Typically, people charged with vehicular manslaughter and homicide can face the following penalties:
Vehicular manslaughter (a second-degree felony). The penalties include a maximum of $10,000 in fines and up to 20 years in prison.
Criminally negligent homicide (a state jail felony). The conviction carries up to $10,000 in fines and no more than 2 years in state jail.
Intoxication manslaughter (a second-degree felony). The penalties include a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and up to $10,000 in fines. However, the offense can be elevated to a first-degree felony was if the killed victim was an on-duty police officer, firefighter, or member of the emergency medical services personnel. In addition, a person convicted of intoxication manslaughter can face up to 2 years of a driver’s license suspension.
There are additional factors that may result in harsher penalties, including:
You have prior convictions on your record;
Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeded .15% at the time of the crash;
The killed victim was a police officer, firefighter, or member of the emergency medical services personnel; or
You had a minor child in your car at the time of the crash.
Contact a criminal defense attorney if you are facing any of these three driving-related manslaughter/homicide charges in Texas. You need a skilled and competent defense lawyer who can assist in your defense to help you avoid a conviction or reduce the charges.
Speak with a Belton Criminal Defense Attorney
Any manslaughter and homicide charges can result in harsh penalties. A conviction can negatively impact many aspects of your life, which is why it is best to hire an experienced lawyer to avoid a conviction altogether.
If you have been arrested for killing someone while operating your motor vehicle, do not hesitate to get in touch with our attorneys at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard.Our knowledgeable criminal attorneys are committed to helping you build a strong defense strategy to protect your future and freedom. Call (254) 220-4225 to receive a free case evaluation.