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Texas First Degree Murder Laws

Overview of Texas First Degree Murder Laws

Texas does not officially use the term "first degree murder" which can sometimes be a little bit confusing. Instead, the equivalent in Texas is known as "capital murder," which is murder for which a perpetrator can get a sentence of capital punishment. To convict a defendant of capital murder, prosecutors must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  • The defendant intentionally and knowingly caused the death of another person;
  • The defendant intended to cause serious bodily injury and committed an act that was clearly dangerous to human life and this act caused the death of an individual; or
  • The defendant committed or attempted to commit a felony (other than manslaughter) and in performing that felony, committed an act that was clearly dangerous to human life and this act caused the death of an individual.

In addition to the above criteria, in order for the charge to be capital murder, as opposed to just "murder' in Texas, one of the following must apply:

  • The victim is a peace officer or fireman who was acting under lawful duty at the time of the crime;
  • The defendant intentionally commits the murder in the course of committing or attempting to commit kidnapping, burglary, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction or retaliation, or terroristic threat;
  • The defendant is paid to commit murder or pays someone else to commit murder;
  • The defendant commits the crime while trying to escape from a penal institution;
  • The defendant murders another person while in jail
  • The defendant murders more than one person
  • The defendant murders a child younger than six years of age
  • The defendant murders someone in retaliation for or on account of the service of a member of the judiciary

Defenses to First Degree Murder Charges

  • Lack of intent
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Insanity
  • Intoxication
  • Self-defense

NOTE: If none of the criteria are met for capital murder, the defendant may still be found guilty of a lesser murder charge.

See First Degree Murder Defenses to learn more.

Penalties and Sentences

In Texas, first degree murder (or capital murder), carries a very serious and very heavy penalty. Since Texas is a state that allows capital punishment, it is possible to receive a death penalty sentence. Generally speaking, the sentence for a capital felony in Texas is either death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

If the defendant is declared to be incapacitated (e.g. with a mental disability or is declared insane), then he/she will be spared from the death penalty. The minimum age in Texas to receive the death penalty is 17 years of age.

See First Degree Murder Penalties and Sentencing for more details.

Texas First Degree Murder Laws: Statute

Texas First Degree Murder ("Capital Murder") Statute (Penal Code, Title 5, Chapter 19)

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- please contact a Texas criminal defense attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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