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Manslaughter vs. criminally negligent homicide in Texas

Oct 26, 2022 | Criminal Defense

What’s the difference between manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in Texas? Both involve the untimely death of another human being, but neither charge involves an actual intent to kill by the defendant. 

However, manslaughter is a second degree felony and sends you to prison, while criminally negligent homicide is a state jail felony, making it the lesser crime of the two, where less time may be served.

Why were you charged with one over the other? Here are the basics you should know:

It all comes down to recklessness over negligence

“Recklessness” seems like a vague term, but it basically means acting in a way that deliberately ignores the risk of harm to another – and that’s the defining element of a manslaughter charge. Criminal negligence, by comparison, means that you acted without attention to your surroundings, most likely by failing to take the steps a reasonable person would have taken to avoid a preventable tragedy.

Here’s a basic example that could help explain the difference: 

  • On New Year’s Eve, you’re at a crowded party and you decide to fire a gun into the air in celebration at the stroke of midnight, totally ignoring the fact that what goes up must come down. The bullet comes down with so much force that it kills someone nearby. That would probably be termed recklessness and lead to a manslaughter charge.
  • You’re at the same crowded party, but you don’t fire into the air. You do, however, show your new gun to a few of your friends, and it turns out you forgot to put on the safety. The weapon is accidentally triggered and your friend dies. Most likely, that would be considered criminal negligence.

It can be tough to understand the intricacies of criminal law – and even tougher to navigate the system. If you’re facing charges, it’s often wise to explore all your defense options.