Texas Lawyers Explain Capital Murder Charges


Texas Lawyers Explain Capital Murder Charges

Hey y’all, my name’s John and I’m a lawyer here in Texas. Today I wanted to write and explain capital murder charges, since they’re a big deal and can be super confusing. I’ll try to break it down in simple terms so anyone can understand.

First off, what makes a murder “capital” murder? Basically if certain circumstances exist during the crime, it bumps the charge up to capital murder which is way more serious. The main thing is it opens up the possibility of the death penalty if convicted. Here’s some of the circumstances that kick a murder charge up to capital level:

  • Murder of a police officer or firefighter
  • Murder while committing another felony (like robbery, kidnapping, etc)
  • Murder for hire (someone paid you to do it)
  • Murder of a child under 10 years old
  • Murder of more than one person

There’s more but those are some of the big ones. So if a murder happens during one of those situations, the charges get bumped up to capital murder. Way more serious with way higher stakes.

Now why does Texas have capital murder laws in the first place? Well its tied to the death penalty which we still have here. The idea is to punish the absolute worst murders with the harshest punishment. Of course the death penalty is super controversial and a big debate rages around it. But the capital murder charge is tied to that.

Okay what exactly are the consequences if charged and convicted of capital murder? Well it’s about as bad as it gets. Since executions are still legal here, capital murder can carry the death penalty. Even if not sentenced to death, capital murder conviction means automatic life in prison without parole. So either executed or die in prison – those are the options.

Let’s get into some specifics. Here’s how the actual law defines capital murder in Texas Penal Code Section 19.03:

(a) A person commits an offense if the person commits murder as defined under Section 19.02(b)(1) and:

(1) the person murders a peace officer or fireman who is acting in the lawful discharge of an official duty and who the person knows is a peace officer or fireman;

(2) the person 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;

(3) the person commits the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration or employs another to commit the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration;

(4) the person commits the murder while escaping or attempting to escape from a penal institution;

(5) the person, while incarcerated in a penal institution, murders another:

(A) who is employed in the operation of the penal institution; or

(B) with the intent to establish, maintain, or participate in a combination or in the profits of a combination;

(6) the person:

(A) while incarcerated for an offense under this section or Section 19.02, murders another; or

(B) while serving a sentence of life imprisonment or a term of 99 years for an offense under Section 20.04, 22.021, or 29.03, murders another;

(7) the person murders more than one person:

(A) during the same criminal transaction; or

(B) during different criminal transactions but the murders are committed pursuant to the same scheme or course of conduct;

(8) the person murders an individual under 10 years of age; or

(9) the person murders another person in retaliation for or on account of the service or status of the other person as a judge or justice of the supreme court, the court of criminal appeals, a court of appeals, a district court, a criminal district court, a constitutional county court, a statutory county court, a justice court, or a municipal court.

That’s the law straight from the books. As you can see, capital murder covers a lot of specific situations that jack the charge way up compared to regular murder.

Now, what are the odds of actually being charged with capital murder? Well in Texas we have a lot of murders unfortunately – over 1,000 a year. But only a small fraction of those end up being charged as capital cases. Out of the thousands of murders annually, there’s typically around a dozen or so capital murder charges each year. So pretty rare but it does happen.

If you’re wondering about convictions – according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, there are 212 offenders currently on death row. Texas has executed 573 offenders since 1982. So while capital murder charges are uncommon, convictions and death penalty sentences do occur somewhat regularly compared to other states.

Okay let’s talk about what happens if you’re actually charged with capital murder. First, don’t say anything to the police and ask for a lawyer immediately! Capital cases are no joke so you need an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. Expect to be held without bond pre-trial because of the severity of the charge. Your attorney will start investigating the case and looking for any possible defenses. Some common defenses in capital cases include:

  • You didn’t actually commit the murder
  • It was self-defense or defense of others
  • You were insane at the time and unable to understand your actions
  • You were acting under duress or coercion
  • It was an accident or mistake
  • There’s no evidence or the evidence is weak

Your lawyer may also challenge the capital charge itself, arguing that the circumstances don’t actually meet the criteria for capital murder under the law. This can potentially get the charge reduced to regular murder.

If it goes to trial, expect an intense legal battle with the prosecution. Capital cases have two phases – first the guilt phase where the jury decides if you’re guilty or not guilty. If found guilty, then it moves to the punishment phase where the jury decides on life without parole or the death penalty. Your attorney’s job is to fight every step of the way.

Okay I know that was a lot of info, but I hope this gives you a good overview of how capital murder works in Texas. It’s about the most serious charge there is here. The stakes are sky high so if you’re ever charged with capital murder, get a great lawyer immediately to protect your rights. Let me know if you have any other questions!