Criminal Defense

The Difference Between Murder Vs. Manslaughter in Texas

While the two terms are often used interchangeably, the differences between murder vs. manslaughter are many, including very different levels of punishment if convicted. One of the main commonalities between the classes of homicide in Texas is that if you’re accused, you will need the best lawyer you can find if you want to keep your freedom. 

Whether you were charged with homicide, manslaughter, or murder in Texas, you’ll be facing one of the most serious legal charges with the most aggressive prosecution. 

In this article, the Fort Worth murder lawyers at Sellers Law Firm will discuss the differences between murder vs manslaughter vs homicide, the penalties associated with each, and how a good criminal defense attorney might be your only hope. 

What is the difference between manslaughter and murder in Texas?

The main differences between manslaughter and murder lie in the intent of the person who committed the crime. It isn’t of course this simple in practice, but theoretically, the difference between murder and manslaughter can be boiled down to “Did they mean to do it?” If they meant to do it, they will likely face a murder charge, and if they didn’t, a manslaughter charge. 

Intent is closely examined by Texas courts in homicide cases; our state believes in the right to protect ourselves and, depending on the circumstances, the Texas self-defense laws can even make a murder charge go away. 

The severity of your homicide charge will be determined by circumstances like intent. In certain situations, the difference between needing an aggravated assault attorney for a bar fight or a manslaughter attorney for that same bar fight is just a little bit of bad luck. For this reason, in order for a person to be charged with murder and not manslaughter, they must have “knowingly and intentionally” caused the death of another person.

What are the 4 types of homicide in Texas?

Criminal homicide is an umbrella term used to describe four distinct crimes: criminally negligent homicide, manslaughter, murder, and capital murder. Here we will go into more detail about the types of homicide charges, all of which are defined under Texas Penal Code § 19.

Criminally negligent homicide

The difference between murder vs homicide is like the difference between a square and a rectangle, in that all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. All murders are homicides, but not all homicides are murders. 

Criminally negligent homicide in Texas is defined by Texas Penal Code § 19.05 as “causing the death of an individual by criminal negligence,” which can mean reckless driving, firing a deadly weapon into the air, leaving a child in a hot car, or other reckless but not necessarily murderous behaviors. 


The statutory language for manslaughter is very similar to that of criminally negligent homicide. It reads “a person commits an offense if he recklessly causes the death of an individual.” The key difference here is “recklessly causing death” rather than “causing death by negligence.” The negligence is no longer primarily at fault, the person is. 

Manslaughter charges necessitate reckless regard for human life and can be split up into voluntary and involuntary charges. Some examples of manslaughter include accidentally firing a gun and killing someone, killing someone in the heat of passion, or driving drunk and causing the death of another — which will get you charged with intoxication manslaughter in Texas.


As defined by Texas Penal Code § 19.02, a person commits a murder offense if they:

  • (1)  intentionally or knowingly cause the death of an individual;
  • (2)  intend to cause serious bodily injury and commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual; or
  • (3)  commit or attempt to commit a felony, other than manslaughter, and in the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempt, or in immediate flight from the commission or attempt, commit or attempt to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual.

So you can be charged with murder if you intentionally and knowingly cause the death of another, cause the death of another while trying to cause serious bodily injury, or cause the death of another while committing another felony. In Texas, there aren’t really degrees of murder like there are in some other states, just murder and capital murder.

Capital murder

According to Texas Penal Code § 19.03, a murder charge is upgraded to a capital murder charge if the victim was:

  • An on-duty officer of the law
  • Under the age of 10
  • Killed during kidnapping, robbery, burglary, arson, aggravated sexual assault, retaliation, obstruction, or a terrorist threat

You can also be charged with capital murder if multiple people are killed during the commission of other felonies. But what does it all mean? What are the differences in punishment for these incredibly serious charges? 

Punishments for the different degrees of homicide

While all homicide charges are incredibly serious when looking at the punishments the difference between them is clear. 

Criminally Negligent HomicideState jail felony$10,000180 days – 2 years
ManslaughterSecond-degree felony$10,0002 – 20 years
MurderFirst-degree felony$10,0005 – 99 years
Capital MurderCapital felonyN/ALife in prison or the death penalty

Other than your attorney fighting for a “Not Guilty” verdict, they will also attempt to fight to reduce the charge you are facing. Because the difference between some of these charges depends so heavily on intent and circumstances, it is essential that you get a qualified Fort Worth homicide attorney in your corner as soon as possible to make sure that you don’t end up fighting a murder charge for what should have been considered manslaughter. 

Call the Fort Worth criminal homicide attorneys at Sellers Law Firm

The differences between murder vs. manslaughter in Texas lie largely in the intent of the person who caused the death of the victim, and the difference between a life well lived and a life in prison could be the quality of the Fort Worth murder lawyer that you hire to take your case. 

Don’t gamble on a lawyer who doesn’t have experience taking these cases to court and arguing in front of a judge and jury. You only get one shot at this. 

The attorneys at Sellers Law Firm have experience taking murder cases to trial for their clients and winning them their freedom. If you or a loved one has been charged with manslaughter or murder in Texas, and are in need of relentless defense, call the attorneys at Sellers Law Firm today at (817) 928-4222 or contact us online for a free consultation. 

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