Texas law provides that, aside from murder or capital murder, the killing of another person can be charged as either manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide. With the latter two offenses, charges arise when the actor did not intend or plan on taking another's life, but such an outcome resulted regardless.
Manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide are serious crimes, as they result in the loss of someone's life. But even though they both are committed without intent or premeditation, they are not on the same level. Manslaughter is considered a more severe offense than criminally negligent homicide. What distinguishes the two and makes one worse than the other in the eyes of the law is the actor's culpable mental state at the time of the offense.
What Is a Culpable Mental State?
The term "culpable mental state" refers to the actors thinking during the crime they allegedly committed. Texas Penal Code § 6.02 identifies four culpable mental states.
Listed from highest to lowest, they include:
- Reckless, and
- Criminal negligence
The Culpable States of Mind for Manslaughter and Criminally Negligent Homicide
According to Texas's homicide statute, a person commits manslaughter when they recklessly cause another's death. The law provides that a person acts recklessly when they are aware that their conduct can lead to a certain result but they continue to engage in it regardless of the substantial and unjustifiable risks.
To prove that a person acted recklessly, it must be shown that they, by carrying out whatever act led to the other's death, behaved in a way that deviated from how a reasonable person would have acted under similar circumstances.
Criminally negligent homicide occurs when someone acts with criminal negligence and causes the death of another. To act with criminal negligence means that the person should have been aware that their conduct could have put another's life at substantial and unjustifiable risk. Again, the test of whether the actor was in this culpable mental state is whether an ordinary person would have known of the dangers inherent in their conduct.
The Penalties for Manslaughter and Criminally Negligent Homicide
Recklessnes requires more awareness of the risks involved in certain behaviors. As such, it is at a higher level than criminal negligence. Thus, manslaughter is considered worse than criminally negligent homicide. The law, therefore, allows offenders to be penalized accordingly.
Manslaughter is a second-degree felony. A conviction may result in between 2 and 20 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Criminally negligent homicide is a state jail felony. Although the fine amount is the same as that for manslaughter, the term of incarceration is lower. A court can impose a state jail sentence between 180 days and 2 years.