The difference between a murder charge and a capital murder charge is about context. A capital murder must have all the elements of murder, plus something additional. The contexts that trigger a capital murder charge come in a few different forms. One is of an aggravated nature, exacerbating what is already murder but with greater intent or callousness.
Another is when the murder is intentional and occurs in the process of carrying out other felonies. Lastly, capital murder protects and applies to certain public servants and government spaces.
A murder or capital murder charge in Texas can carry severe penalties. Texas ranks second in jail time given for crimes against a person. In particular, murder in Texas is a first-degree felony carrying up to 99 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Capital murder also allows up to 99 years in prison, but a court could give a life sentence or even the death penalty.
What Is Murder
Murder is not simply one person killing another. There are three different conditions a killing can meet to be considered murder. Texas, like ten other states, does not differentiate between 1st and 2nd-degree murder.
The most obvious type of murder is the intentional and knowledgable killing of someone. It is what we commonly think of as murder, and any good Sherlock Holmes story or Murder She Wrote episode is an example. Generally, it is a premeditated, planned killing with the hopes of achieving something or a motive.
A defendant could also be found guilty of a murder charge without an intent to kill. If there was intent to do serious bodily injury, and the act was clearly dangerous, the defendant could be found guilty of murder. For example, a defendant could claim when they shot the victim; they only intended to wound them. Maybe there is evidence supporting that claim, and the jury thinks the defendant is telling the truth.
The jury could still return a guilty verdict because there was intent to do serious harm, and the act, shooting someone with a gun, is clearly dangerous. In a case like this, an intent to kill may not be required.
The third way a killing can rise to a murder charge is when it occurs during a felony, and the act that caused the death was clearly dangerous. For example, let’s take a look at a hypothetical bank robbery. The bank robbers, armed with guns, have no intention to kill anyone during the bank robbery, or during the getaway, which involved driving at a dangerously high rate of speed.
Yet, if they do kill anyone during their bank robbery or the getaway, they could very well be found guilty of a murder charge. Bank robbery is a felony, and a jury could determine that robbing a bank with guns or driving at a high rate a speed during a getaway, to be clearly dangerous.
What Turns Murder Into Capital Murder
As discussed above, a capital murder must meet one of the criteria for murder, with another aggravating or exacerbating factor. Our bank robbery hypothetical from above can illuminate this. If the bank robbers intentionally killed anyone during the carrying out of their felony, that would be capital murder.
Felonies accompanied by an intentional killing that could rise to a capital murder charge include kidnapping, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction of justice, or terroristic threats.
Even without any intent, if the bank robbers kill more than one person during their heist, that would qualify as capital murder. Also, if during the robbery, a police officer is killed carrying out their lawful duty to stop the robbery, that would constitute capital murder. Police and firefighters in Texas are offered this special protection. It also extends to members of the judiciary, such as judges and prosecutors.
Capital crimes can extend to non-killers as well. Let’s look at a white-collar crime to contrast with our blue-collar bank robbery. An executive has been embezzling money from his company. An employee finds a discrepancy in the company’s finances. The executive hires a hitman to kill the nosey employee. Paying for murder, or accepting payment to commit a murder, is a capital crime. This implicates both the executive and the hitman.
Another instance of a capital crime is when the victim is under the age of 10. Jails are also protected by capital murder charges. Anyone killing or conspiring to kill someone while in jail, or killing someone while trying to escape from jail, is subject to a capital murder charge. Lastly, if someone kills more than one person by the same means, even at different times, like a serial killer, those qualify as capital murders.
Contact An Experienced Texas Murder Defense Attorney Today
If you are facing a murder or capital murder charge in Texas, call the former Felony Prosecutors at The Law Firm of Vinas and Graham. A murder conviction can have serious consequences for your freedom. The Law Firm of Vinas and Graham has the experience needed to assure the state carries its full burden of proof, and you take advantage of any defenses or mitigations at your disposal.