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Hays County, Texas Case Illustrates Felony Murder Rule

The term “felony murder” is often confusing to non-lawyers. Everyone knows there is no misdemeanor murder, so isn’t murder always a felony? And the answer is yes, murder is always a felony. But the tricky part here is that the term “felony” in felony murder is not referring to the degree of the offense, it is referring to a legal doctrine that basically says if someone dies during the commission of a felony, the person committing the felony can be charged with the crime we call murder. Every other definition of murder involves a culpable mental state; in felony murder, the commission of the underlying felony is taken as evidence of the necessary mental state. Felony murder is specifically defined in the Texas Penal Code Section 19.02(b)(3) (emphasis added):

A person commits an offense if he:

(1) intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual;
(2) intends to cause serious bodily injury and commits an act clearly dangerous to human life
that causes the death of an individual;  or
(3) commits or attempts to commit a felony, other than manslaughter, and in the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempt, or in immediate flight  from the commission or attempt, the commits or attempts to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that cuses the death of an indvidual.

A case from Buda, Texas gives an example of how Texas prosecutors can charge people accused of DWI with felony murder. DWI is normally a misdemeanor, but if someone has been convicted at least twice for misdemeanor DWI, each following DWI charge is a felony. In addition, DWI with a passenger under 15 years of age is also a felony. If someone dies in a car crash where the driver is accused of a felony-level DWI offense, prosecutors in Texas can also seek felony murder charges.

Discussing the Buda man’s case, Hays County District Attorney Wes Mau makes the typical argument for a murder charge in such a case:

“That’s a person who has been through the system a couple of times, has undoubtedly been told about the dangers of drinking and driving and has probably been through programs about how people are harmed by this,” said Mau. “Besides a DWI, he’s committing a felony and under our murder statute if a person is committing a felony and does an act clearly dangerous to human life, that’s a murder if it actually causes the death of another individual.”

Anyone charged with a criminal offense in Texas needs to speak with a Texas Criminal Defense Attorney. If they cannot afford to hire their own attorney, they must ask that the court appoint an attorney to represent them. As with any criminal charge, DWI charges are serious and only by consulting with an experienced Texas DWI Attorney can you protect your rights.