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Understanding Murder in Corpus Christi, Texas

Murder is one form of criminal homicide that involves the intentional and unlawful killing of a person. The crime covers situations involving the premeditated killing of an individual or where the defendant intended to inflict serious bodily harm which causes the death of another. Under Texas law, the killing of another during the commission of a felony such as arson, sexual assault, or robbery may also constitute murder. This is so even when the defendant did not intend to cause the death of the victim while committing the felony. The defendant becomes liable for the offense as long as there was an intention to commit the underlying felony and death resulting from such a felony offense.

Murder is one of the most serious violent offenses in Corpus Christi, and the defendant may face stiff and long-lasting penalties upon conviction. Some of these penalties include hefty fines, the possibility of life imprisonment, or even capital punishment (death penalty). The collateral consequences of a murder conviction extend beyond prison sentences and fines and may also result in a permanent criminal record, restriction on the use of firearms, loss of the right to child custody in a divorce dispute, suspension of driver's license, loss of civil rights and privileges such as the right to serve on a jury or hold a public position.

What is First-Degree Murder in Corpus Christi?

First-degree murder or capital murder is the applicable charge if the killing of another involves certain aggravating factors, including the nature of the crime, the age, or the victim’s job or position. Some of the aggravating circumstances that may warrant a capital murder charge include:

  • The victim was a peace officer or fireman acting in lawful duty
  • The defendant killed the victim in the course of committing arson, burglary, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery, obstruction/retaliation, or a terrorist threat.
  • The defendant was hired to kill the victim and received payment in return for the murder.
  • The victim was a fellow prisoner in a prison or penal institution
  • The defendant killed an employee of prison or penal institution
  • The defendant killed more than one person during a crime or series of related crimes
  • The defendant killed as part of a gang activity
  • The defendant killed the victim while being incarcerated for murder, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated robbery, or aggravated kidnapping.
  • The victim was under the age of 10
  • The victim was a judge and was killed in retaliation to a duty fulfilled as part of their service in the court.

Charges of capital murder in Corpus Christi are prosecuted as capital felonies, punishable by life in prison or death. The city recognizes the death penalty as a legal possibility for a defendant charged with capital murder and above the age of 17 years. The possibility of future parole in cases of life sentences also depends on the age of the defendant.

What is Second-Degree Murder in Corpus Christi?

Corpus Christi does not classify a homicide as second-degree murder, as all murder charges are first-degree felonies in the city. There are three circumstances when the defendant can be charged with murder in Corpus Christi. These include:

  • When the defendant intentionally or knowingly causes the death of a person
  • When the defendant  intends to inflict grievous bodily harm, and this results in the death of a person
  • When the defendant commits or attempts to commit a felony and, in the process of committing that crime, causes the death of a person.

Since murder charges are treated seriously in Corpus Christi, the offense is punishable by imprisonment for 5-99 years and a fine of up to $10,000. Murder charges in the city may, however, be reduced to a second-degree felony if the defendant is able to prove that the killing occurred due to sudden passion or provocation. This is punishable by 2-20 years in prison and a fine of not more than $10,000 upon conviction.

What is Third-Degree Murder in Corpus Christi?

Third-degree murder refers to the unintentional killing of a person in the process of committing a dangerous act. The offense of criminally negligent homicide falls under this category in Corpus Christi and involves causing the death of another through the negligent conduct of the defendant. The prosecution may therefore charge the defendant with criminally negligent homicide if the defendant failed to take standard and reasonable care, which resulted in the death of the victim. In the case of criminal negligence, the duty of care owed by the defendant to the victim is more serious than that owed in an ordinary civil negligence case. The prosecution is required to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant had a duty to prevent death, the defendant failed to fulfill this duty, and that the defendant's actions directly resulted in the death of the victim. The offense of criminally negligent homicide is prosecuted as a state jail felony and is punishable by imprisonment for a period between 180 days and two years and a fine of up to $10,000.

What is Manslaughter in Corpus Christi?

The offense of manslaughter in Corpus Christi refers to the reckless killing of a person. In order to prove recklessness, the defendant must have been aware of the risks in their conduct but still disregarded those risks. In Corpus Christi, there is only one charge of manslaughter, and no distinction is made between voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. The city, however, recognizes the independent offense of vehicular manslaughter and intoxication manslaughter. Charges of manslaughter are prosecuted as a second-degree felony which is punishable by imprisonment for 2-20 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

What is Vehicular Manslaughter?

Vehicular manslaughter in Corpus Christi arises when the defendant recklessly operates a vehicle in such a manner as to result in the death of a person. The offense covers any death resulting from reckless driving of a vehicle, racing on a highway, or driving in a state of intoxication. In particular, the Texas Transportation Code provides that any death resulting from participation in a race, vehicle speed or acceleration contest would constitute vehicular manslaughter. The offense is a second-degree felony punishable by a prison term of 2-20 years and a fine of up to $10,000. The defendant can also be charged with vehicular manslaughter for killing a person while operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license. The offense is classified as a misdemeanor when the defendant fails to possess vehicle liability insurance in this situation, and this is punishable by imprisonment for a year and a $4,000 fine.

What is Voluntary Manslaughter?

Voluntary manslaughter is committed when the defendant kills a person in a "heat of passion" or under the influence of sudden provocation arising from an adequate cause.  A murder charge may therefore be reduced to voluntary manslaughter in Corpus Christi if the defendant can prove the elements of sudden passion and adequate cause. The victim's actions must have evoked the sudden passion of the defendant at the time of the offense. In order to determine what constitutes adequate cause, the defendant's reaction must be a reaction expected from an ordinary person in particular circumstances. Voluntary manslaughter is a second-degree felony punishable by a prison term of 2-20 years and a fine of up to $10,000. 

What is Involuntary Manslaughter?

Involuntary manslaughter arises when the defendant unintentionally causes the death of a person. In Corpus Christi, intoxication manslaughter is an independently recognized offense that can be classified under this category of manslaughter. The offense occurs when the defendant operates a vehicle, watercraft, aircraft or an amusement park ride while being intoxicated with drugs or alcohol. The offense is a second-degree felony punishable by a prison term of 2-20 years and a fine of up to $10,000. Other punishments include 240 hours of community service, probation, suspension/revocation of driver's license, and compulsory drug and alcohol counseling. Notably, intoxication manslaughter may become a first-degree felony if the victim was a peace officer, fireman, or emergency medical staff.

What Type of Lawyer do I Need for a Murder Charge in Corpus Christi?

Speaking to a criminal defense attorney once arrested for murder can be very crucial to the defendant’s case in a murder trial. As in the case of other homicide offenses, murder charges in Corpus Christi are prosecuted aggressively, and the defendant may be subjected to severe punishments upon conviction. This makes it necessary to hire a skilled and competent criminal defense lawyer who would investigate the facts of the case and establish a defense strategy in favor of the defendant. The lawyer would ensure the constitutional rights of the defendant are protected from the initial arrest to trial and appeal stage. The lawyer would also ensure that the evidence of the prosecution is not collected unlawfully and does not violate the constitutional rights of the defendant. An experienced criminal defense lawyer would usually establish an effective defense strategy to secure an acquittal or at least reduce the culpability of the defendant. Some of these defenses include:

  • Absence of requisite intention: The accidental killing of another negates any intention to commit murder. This is what distinguishes a murder charge from a manslaughter charge in Corpus Christi. If the defendant is able to prove that there was no intention to cause the death of the victim, the murder charge is lowered to manslaughter, which reduces the defendant's culpability.
  • Justified Homicide: A defendant charged with murder may be justified in killing another individual if the act was done in self-defense or in defense of a third party. The defense is also applicable in a situation where the victim is a trespasser who enters the defendant's residence or unlawfully interferes with the defendant's property. Notably, the degree of force used against the victim must be reasonable and proportionate in particular circumstances.
  • Defense of Alibi: This defense relies on the fact that the defendant was not at the crime scene at the time the offense was committed. Since it is impossible for the defendant to be at different places at the same time, this defense strategy is used to show that the defendant could not have committed the offense. The defendant would have to present credible witnesses to testify at the trial to prove this defense.
  • Insanity: This is an affirmative defense in Corpus Christi that involves proving that the defendant's conduct was done as a result of a severe mental disease or mental defect. It must be proven that at the time of the offense, the defendant did not know that their conduct was wrong due to the mental illness suffered by the defendant. The defendant would be found not guilty by reason of insanity and will be placed into treatment at a state hospital. This would be for a period not exceeding the maximum prison sentence for the murder charge.
  • Exercise of duty: This defense is applicable to police officers or any other officer in law enforcement that kills a person. Notably, the police officer must have killed the victim in the exercise of lawful duty, and the killing must be done without unlawful intention or recklessness.