Free Consultation 24/7

The Difference Between Murder & Capital Murder in Texas?

Capital Murder in Texas | Heath Hyde

Table of Contents

The distinctions between murder and capital murder in Texas are discussed in this article. 

Heath Hyde, as a criminal defense attorney in East Texas, has handled hundreds of violent crime cases and obtained good outcomes for our clients.

Texas law, unlike federal and other state laws, does not discriminate between different degrees of murder. In Texas, criminal homicide is divided into four categories: capital murder, murder, manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide.

Legal Definition of Murder in Texas

There are three basic circumstances that constitute murder in Texas, according to the Texas Penal Code. An individual must have done one of three things to commit a murder:

  1. Intentionally or intentionally caused another person’s death.
  2. Intentionally committed an act manifestly hazardous to human life with the aim to cause serious physical injury and death to another person.
  3. While performing or attempting to conduct a felony, or during the immediate flight from the crime or attempted crime, committed an act plainly harmful to human life, resulting in the death of another individual.

In Texas, murder is a first-degree felony, which means that people convicted of it face a jail sentence ranging from five to ninety-nine years.

What’s the difference between murder and capital murder in Texas?

When a murder case involves one or more of the aggravating elements listed in the Texas Penal Code, capital murder is committed. These exacerbating circumstances are discussed further down.

Capital Murder in Texas

Assassinating Specific Victims

A murder charge will always be elevated to a capital murder in Texas charge if particular victims are murdered. These are some of them:

  • Peace officers and firefighters, if they are operating in the course of their official responsibilities and the perpetrator is aware that the victim is a peace officer or a firefighter.
  • Employees of a prison institution where the culprit is incarcerated under the law.
  • Children under ten years old.
  • Children between the ages of ten and fifteen.

If the murder is committed in retaliation for the victim’s status or service as a judge or justice, 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).

While Incarcerated, Committing a Homicide

If a murder is committed while confined, it may be upgraded to capital murder in Texas under specific circumstances, such as:

  • A homicide committed while seeking to flee or escaping from a correctional institution.
  • A homicide committed in a correctional facility with the intent of making or maintaining a profit.
  • A murder committed by a person in prison serving a sentence for murder, capital murder, or a life sentence or a sentence of 99 years.

Murdering Someone While Committing Other Crimes

Other circumstances that raise a murder charge to a capital murder in Texas accusation include the commission of the murder in conjunction with other criminal offenses:

  • A murder committed with the aim to commit or attempt to commit specified crimes, such as kidnapping, burglary, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction or retribution, or a terroristic threat.
  • A homicide committed for money (monetary payment) or with the expectation of remuneration. Both the person who hired the murderer and the person who hired the murderer could be prosecuted with capital murder in this case.
  • Multiple killings that occurred at the same time or at different times but were all part of the same criminal plot or pattern of behavior.

What Are the Penalties in Texas for Capital Murder?

Capital murder in Texas is a capital offense, meaning it carries greater punishments than ordinary murder accusations. Those convicted of capital murder face the death penalty or a life sentence in prison.

What Are the Unique Issues in a Case of Capital Murder?

Capital Murder in Texas | Heath Hyde

The death penalty is a possibility in Texas capital murder cases. Texas is one of 31 states that have the option of death punishment for extremely egregious offenses. When deciding whether the offender should be sentenced to death or life in prison after a guilty conviction in a capital murder case, the jury is asked to consider three particular concerns.

In a Texas capital murder case, the jury must answer “yes” to the first two special issues and “no” to the third special issue before the defendant can be sentenced to death. For each of the first two special issues, ten jurors must agree beyond a reasonable doubt for a “yes” answer to be accepted.

1st Special Issue 

The first special issue asks the jury to determine whether the offender has a reasonable chance of committing criminal acts of violence that pose a threat to society.

2nd Special Issue 

The jury must also evaluate the perpetrator’s purpose in the second special issue. It can be divided into three sections:

  1. Was the defendant responsible for the victim’s death?
  2. Did the defendant plan to kill the dead or another person if the defendant did not cause the victim’s death?
  3. Did the defendant intend for a human life to be taken as a result of their conduct, even though they did not cause the victim’s death?

3rd Special Issue

If the jury votes “yes” on both of the first two special issues, they will be asked to consider the third special issue, which involves examining the defendant’s character, background, and moral circumstances to see if there are any mitigating factors that would make a life sentence without the possibility of parole a more appropriate sentence than the death penalty.

Texas’s Capital Murder Defense Strategies

If you or a loved one has been accused or charged with a major crime such as murder or capital murder in Texas, you may feel helpless and powerless to do anything but accept your fate. The prosecution, on the other hand, must be able to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knowingly caused the deceased’s death.

Depending on the circumstances of your case, a qualified defense attorney with expertise facing Texas murder and capital murder charges may be able to get the accusations against you dropped or reduced to less serious charges.

There are a few popular murder defense methods that can be used:

Intentional Omission.

Accidents happen. Defendants may be charged of killing someone on purpose when, in fact, they were involved in an accident. Furthermore, the defendant’s acts may not have been meant to result in the victim’s death. The prosecution must be able to show that the alleged criminal intended for their actions to kill the victim in order to prove that a murder happened.

The outcome of your case is more likely to be positive if the defense can show that the defendant did not intend for the victim to die.


Texas is one of twenty-five states that have enacted “stand your ground” legislation, which allows you to oppose a violent threat with force. To properly establish that a homicide was committed in self-defense and hence justified, the defendant must demonstrate the following:

  • They were legitimately afraid of the victim’s death or physical harm (verbal threats and insults are unlikely to be enough to show this).
  • The defendant employed a proportional level of force in response to the intensity of the threat. For example, it would be difficult to argue that shooting someone many times in the shoulder constituted an acceptable or proportional response.
  • The frightening situation must not have been started by the defendant. In other words, if you hit someone first and they replied in self-defense, you would not be allowed to claim self-defense because you initiated the threat.
  • After the threat of death or bodily harm has passed, the defendant must not have used force. It’s not acceptable to show up to someone’s house with a knife hours after they’ve threatened you.

Sudden ecstasy sparked by a good reason.

The defendant may be allowed to argue that the alleged offense was the product of a “sudden passion emerging from adequate cause,” according to the Texas Penal Code. Sudden passion is defined as “passion directly produced by and emerging out of provocation by the individual slain or another acting with the person killed,” according to the Penal Code.

“Cause that would normally provoke a degree of fury, rage, resentment, or horror in a person of average disposition, sufficient to render the mind incapable of cool deliberation,” according to the definition of adequate cause.

It’s crucial to remember that displaying sudden rage without justification does not ensure your accusations will be dismissed. If successful, this method could result in your charges being reduced to a second-degree felony, with a prison sentence ranging from two to twenty years.

Attorneys for Violent Crimes in East Texas — Heath Hyde

If you have been charged with a violent crime, murder, or capital murder in Texas, it is critical that you speak with a criminal defense attorney who has handled violent crime cases in Texas. Individuals and businesses accused of criminal charges benefit from Heath Hyde’s proactive and ethical representation. This is accomplished through the firm’s unique team approach to criminal defense, in which both partners are actively involved in the case.

 Heath Hyde examines each case individually and employs all available resources to reach a good conclusion.

Call or email Heath Hyde today to discuss the details of your case in confidence: 903.439.0000, [email protected], or use our free & confidential consultation form.

Meet Heath Hyde - Your Federal Criminal Defense Attorney

Why Hire Heath Hyde?

Top Rated

Named 100 Top Trial Lawyers in the United States & “Rising Star” in Dallas’s D Magazine ​

Results Focused

Tried the largest healthcare fraud case to go to trial in the United States


Handled federal cases nationwide & represented clients in 53 different counties in Texas


Connected with a team of specialists that can handle any criminal issue throughout the country

Get Started on Your Case Today

Heath represents clients in all stages of federal investigations, from initial notice to trial and appeal. Most clients approach Heath in times of crisis, typically after being notified of a criminal investigation or an indictment. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Experienced Federal Criminal Defense attorney at Heath Hyde for a free consultation 24/7.