Capital Murder

Texas Criminal Law

Capital Murder is the most serious crime in the state of Texas. It is the state’s only offense punishable by death. The offense of Capital Murder requires the state to first prove the underlying offense of Murder and then prove that one of listed Capital Murder circumstances applied to the offense.

UPDATE: The Capital Murder law was amended in the 86th Texas Legislature, effective September 1, 2019, through SB 719 (“Lauren’s Law”). The law was amended again in 2023. These changes are discussed below. Learn more detailed information about the Capital Murder offense below.

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Capital Murder is classified in the Texas Penal Code under Title 5 “Offenses Against the Person,” Chapter 19 “Criminal Homicide.”

What is the current Texas law about Capital Murder?

The current Texas law defines the offense of Capital Murder in Penal Code Section §19.03 as follows:[1]

(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 under Section 22.07(a)(1), (3), (4), (5), or (6);

(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;

(9) the person murders an individual 10 years of age or older but younger than 15 years of age; or

(10) 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.

“Lauren’s Law,” enacted in the 86th Texas Legislature through Senate Bill 719, added subsection (9) to the statute above, effective as of September 1, 2019.[2]

The 88th Texas Legislature passed a law in 2023 specifying that, “for purposes of Subsection (a)(1), the actor is presumed to have known the person murdered was a peace officer or fireman if the person was wearing a distinctive uniform or badge indicating the person’s employment as a peace officer or fireman.”[3]

How can I be charged with Capital Murder?

For any offense that occurred prior to September 1, 2019, you can be charged with Capital Murder if the state’s attorneys believe that each of the elements of 19.03(1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8) or (9), as described in the section above have been met.

For any offense committed after September 1, 2019, you can be charged with Capital Murder if the state’s attorneys believe that each of the elements of 19.03(1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8), (9) or (10), as described in the section above have been met.

The offense has changed two other times in the recent past as well. Both times it was amended by expanding the types of instances in which the state may seek the death penalty. The current subsection (10) was added effective 2005[4] and subsection (8) was expanded effective September 1, 2011.[5]

What is the punishment for Capital Murder?

A conviction for Capital Murder is punished as a capital felony,[6] with a maximum penalty of death.

However, the state may not seek the death penalty in any case based solely on an offense under subsection (9) (the Lauren’s Law amendment).[7]

^1. Texas Penal Code §19.03^2. S.B. 719, 86th Texas Legislature, Section 2^3. S.B. 386, 88th Texas Legislature, Section 2^4. S.B. 1791, 79th Texas Legislature, Sections 1-2^5. S.B. 377, 82nd Texas Legislature, Sections 1-2^6. Texas Penal Code §19.03(b)^7. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 37.071 Sec. 1(b), created by S.B. 719, 86th Texas Legislature, Section 3

Capital Murder | Penal Code 19.03 text with Texas and American Flag in background

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