The legal distinction between types of homicide—the unlawful killing of one person by another—often centers around one word, “intent.” The crime charged, and the accompanying severity of punishment can turn exclusively on this element. The extent to which individuals acted with knowledge and awareness of the consequences of their actions require fact analysis by a jury. Often, the jury’s determination results in an appeal on this issue, as it did in a recent court case.
The four mental states of intent
An individual convicted of murder appealed his conviction for murder, which carried a penalty of 25 years in prison. In addition to instructions for murder and manslaughter, the defendant had requested jury instructions for the lesser-included offense of criminally negligent homicide. In denying the defendant’s appeal of whether the trial court should have provided the instruction, the court analyzed the four mental states concerning intent:
- Intent: A person acts with a conscious objective or desire
- Knowingly: A person possesses an awareness of the nature of the conduct and is reasonably certain it will cause the result
- Recklessly: A person remains aware of but consciously disregards a substantial risk that the result will occur
- Criminal Negligence: A person unreasonably fails to perceive an unjustifiable risk.
A jury’s determination on specific facts and testimony not only changes the punishment for a defendant but also challenges perceptions about the area. According to the Texas Department of Safety, the number of murder and non-negligent homicides increased by nearly 12% between 2020 and 2021 During the same time frame, crimes classified as manslaughter by negligence dropped by 25%.
Charges of murder and manslaughter involve conveying to juries two different yet equally important circumstances. First, the actions that occurred, as observed by witnesses and physical evidence. Second, the specific mindset of those who committed the acts. Attorneys who understand both can provide guidance.