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Understanding Murder in San Antonio, Texas

In San Antonio, the crime of murder involves the intentional killing of a person or an attempt to commit a felony in the process of which causes the death of an individual. Intention to commit harm is usually a prerequisite for a person to be convicted of murder. However, there are certain situations where a murder charge would still hold even when there is no intention to harm someone. Chapter 19 of the Texas Penal Code defines such a situation as when a person, in the course of committing a felony, causes the death of another by performing an act “clearly dangerous to human life. 

What is First-Degree Murder in San Antonio?

First-degree murder in San Antonio refers to the deliberate and premeditated decision to cause the death of another person. The prosecution is required to prove beyond reasonable doubts that the defendant:

  • Deliberately killed another person
  • Had an intention to cause serious bodily injury and committed an act that was clearly dangerous to human life, which killed another
  • In committing or attempting to commit a felony, performed an act that was clearly dangerous to human life, which killed another.

Capital Murder: In San Antonio, a first-degree murder charge may be elevated to capital murder depending on the particular act of crime committed as stipulated under the law. Conducts that would result in capital murder include:

  • An act of murder committed against a peace officer or fireman in the course of their lawful duties and the accused had knowledge that the victim was a peace officer or fireman
  • An act of murder done in the course of committing or attempting to commit a felony such as kidnapping, burglary, arson, aggravated sexual assault, obstruction, retaliation, or terrorist threat.
  • An act of murder done for payment or promise of payment. In this case, both the accused who kills another and the person who hires them to commit the act will face felony murder charges.
  • An act of murder committed during an escape, or an attempted escape from a penal institution
  • An act of murder by a prisoner against an employee of a penal institution
  • An act of murder committed by a prisoner together with organized criminal activity
  • An act of murder by a person currently being incarcerated for murder or capital murder
  • An act of murder by a person incarcerated for aggravated robbery, aggravated sexual assault, or aggravated kidnapping.
  • An act of murder against a child under the age of 10 years old
  • An act of murder against a judge in retaliation for the judge’s service.

Notably, first-degree murder in San Antonio is punishable by imprisonment for a period between five to 99 years (life in prison) plus a fine of up to $10,000. The minimum sentence for capital murder is, however, life imprisonment, with or without parole, depending on the offender's age. In addition, the court may impose the death penalty against the defendant upon conviction. The offender must, however be 18 years of age before such capital punishment can be imposed.

What is Second-Degree Murder in San Antonio?

Second-degree murder in San Antonio involves the killing of a person during the commission of a crime or as a result of the accused's recklessness and impulsive action. The murder charges may be reduced from first to second-degree murder in situations where the crime committed that caused the death of another is not punishable with death or life imprisonment. In addition, the killing of another must not be premeditated and must be done on impulse. Otherwise, such murder would not be classified as second-degree murder in San Antonio.

As in the case of first-degree murder, the penalty for second-degree murder in San Antonio consists of a prison sentence ranging between five and 99 years in state prison and a $10,000 fine. If the defendant is able to prove that the crime was done in the heat of passion, the charge becomes a second-degree felony punishable by imprisonment for two to 20 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

What is Third-Degree Murder in San Antonio?

There is no classification of murder in the third degree in San Antonio, Texas. However, some states define third-degree murder as the unintentional killing of someone while committing a dangerous act. The element of lack of intention is, however similar to that required in a manslaughter charge in San Antonio.

What is Manslaughter in San Antonio?

In San Antonio, manslaughter is considered to be the unintentional or reckless causing of the death of another. The lack of intention or premeditation to kill constitutes a major distinguishing factor between a charge of murder and a charge of manslaughter. For purposes of considering recklessness,  the defendant must have been aware of the risk surrounding their action or the consequences of their conduct but still deliberately disregarded such awareness. Unlike most states, there is no differentiation between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter under Texas law. However, the offense of vehicular and intoxication manslaughter is expressly recognized in San Antonio.

What is Vehicular Manslaughter?

Vehicular manslaughter occurs when a person recklessly operates a motor vehicle in such a way that causes the death of another individual. Charges of vehicular manslaughter may also be brought under the Texas Transportation Code, which provides that a person can also be charged with manslaughter in the event where such person participates in any type of race or vehicle speed contest and recklessly causes the death of another individual. Vehicular manslaughter in San Antonio is a second-degree felony punishable by imprisonment for two to 20 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

What is Voluntary Manslaughter?

Voluntary manslaughter is recognized as a crime resulting from the killing of a person in the heat of passion or where unreasonable force is used during self-defense which causes the death of another. Being a second-degree felony, the offender may face the penalty of incarceration for two to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000 upon conviction.

What is Involuntary Manslaughter?

The term involuntary manslaughter is often used interchangeably with the term intoxication manslaughter in San Antonio. Intoxication manslaughter involves the reckless causing of another's death by reason of intoxication. The crime is therefore committed if the defendant operates a motor vehicle, an aircraft, a watercraft, or an amusement ride while being intoxicated with a blood alcohol content of 08%, which results in the death of another by mistake or accident.

As in the case of vehicular manslaughter, intoxication manslaughter is classified as a second-degree felony, punishable by imprisonment for two to 20 years and a fine of up to $10,000. Other penalties include suspension of license between six months and two years and community service of 240 hours, with room for an additional 800 hours at the discretion of the state.

What Type of Lawyer do I Need for a Murder Charge in San Antonio?

Defending charges of murder or manslaughter requires skill and expertise. It is therefore essential that the services of a competent criminal defense attorney be employed to obtain a dismissal of the case or at least a reduced sentence upon conviction. Such an attorney is expected to come up with several defense strategies to diminish the case of the prosecution and to create reasonable doubts in favor of the accused. Some of the applicable defenses to murder and manslaughter charges in San Antonio include:

  • Mistaken Identity/Defense of Alibi: The defense may argue that the wrong person was accused and charged for the crime. The defense of mistaken identity may arise where there are issues relating to forensic evidence, eye-witness testimony, or difficulty in placing the defendant at the scene of the crime. The defense may need to establish an alibi to show that the defendant was not present at the crime scene and may also move to suppress evidence obtained improperly by the prosecution. A murder charge will usually be dismissed if this defense is successfully admitted by the court.
  • Self-defense/defense of others: This form of defense constitutes justification for murder. In San Antonio, a person is allowed to use such force as is reasonable and necessary to prevent an attack against oneself or a third party. In order for this defense to succeed, the defendant must show that there was fear of death or imminent threat of bodily injury as a result of the victim's unlawful attack. The degree of force used must also be reasonable and proportionate to the perceived threat.
  • Exercise of duty: The killing of a person by law enforcement and other public officers may be regarded as justified if done in the exercise of lawful duty and in the absence of unlawful intent, recklessness, or negligence. Generally, such killing would not be considered murder in San Antonio.
  • Absence of intention: It is a defense in a murder charge to show that the defendant's conduct leading to the death of another was done without intention or by accident. It is a defense, for example, to show the defendant committed an act of murder without premeditation while experiencing sudden extreme emotions that rendered the defendant incapable of rational thought. Proving the crime was done recklessly, by negligence, or in the “heat of passion” reduces the defendant's culpability in the particular circumstances. The defendant's insanity or mental illness may also be used as a defense to reduce culpability.
  • Prevention of a crime: Asides from law enforcement, private individuals, are also allowed to use force to prevent the commission of a felony such as a burglary, arson, or kidnapping. Texas law, for example, permits the use of deadly force to prevent misdemeanor theft at night time. The defendant may therefore rely on this law by showing the act resulting in the death of the victim was the only reasonable means of preventing the crime and that the degree of force was proportionate in the particular situation.