Texas’s Vehicular Homicide and Manslaughter Laws and Penalties

A motorist who drives negligently, recklessly, or while under the influence in Texas may face vehicular homicide or manslaughter charges.

Depending on the circumstances, a Texas motorist who causes the death of another person while behind the wheel could face manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, or intoxication manslaughter charges. Here’s how Texas defines these three offenses.

Manslaughter. A motorist can be convicted of manslaughter for causing the death of another person while driving in a “reckless” manner. A person acts with recklessness by knowingly doing or failing to do something that creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk to others. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use in like circumstances.

Criminally negligent homicide. A motorist who kills another person while driving with “criminal negligence” can be charged with criminally negligent homicide. A person acts with criminal negligence by unknowingly doing or failing to do something that creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk to others. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use in like circumstances.

So the difference between criminal negligence and recklessness—and therefore between criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter—is whether the defendant was aware of the risk created by the conduct. Generally, a person who was aware of but disregarded the risk is guilty of manslaughter, whereas a person without such awareness is guilty of criminally negligent homicide.

Intoxication manslaughter. A motorist commits intoxication manslaughter by causing the death of another person while driving in a state of intoxication. For purposes of the statute, “intoxication” means having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more or being impaired by drugs or alcohol to the point of not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties.

(Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 6.03, 19.04, 19.05, 49.01, 49.08 (2017).)

Vehicular Homicide and Manslaughter Penalties

The consequences of a driving-related homicide or manslaughter conviction depend on the circumstances. But generally, the possible penalties are:

  • Manslaughter. Manslaughter is a second-degree felony. Convicted motorists face two to 20 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
  • Criminally negligent homicide. Criminally negligent homicide is a “state jail felony.” A conviction generally carries 180 days to two years in state jail and up to $10,000 in fines.
  • Intoxication manslaughter. Intoxication manslaughter is a second-degree felony. Convicted motorists generally face two to 20 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. However, intoxication manslaughter is a first-degree felony if the victim was an on-duty peace officer, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel. A first-degree felony carries five years to life in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Generally, anyone convicted of intoxication manslaughter is looking at a license suspension of 180 days to two years. And motorists convicted of driving-related manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide face a one-year license suspension.

(Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 12.32, 12.33, 12.35, 19.04, 19.05, 49.08, 49.09 (2017); Tex. Transp. Code Ann. §§ 521.341, 521.341, 521.344 (2017).) 

HOW MUCH TIME WOULD YOU ACTUALLY SPEND IN JAIL?

Sentencing law is complex. For example, a statute might list a “minimum” jail sentence that’s longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including credits for good in-custody behavior, “suspended” sentences, and jail-alternative work programs.

If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.

Talk to a Criminal Defense Attorney

Manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide are serious criminal charges. If you’ve been arrested for a driving-related killing—or any other crime—get in contact with a criminal defense attorney right away. The facts of every case are different. An experienced defense attorney can explain how the law applies to the facts of your case and help you decide on the best plan of action.

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