When a person dies at the hands of another, the unthinkable has happened. The Florida Legislature has distinct criminal charges for someone who is responsible for another person’s death. Depending on the details of the case, the penalties for a homicide can range in severity. Sentencing can include extensive imprisonment, expensive fines, or in the most serious of circumstances, death.
If you or someone you know is facing a homicide charge in Florida, it is highly advisable to seek legal guidance from a defense attorney. Ian Goldstein Law can help review your case and strategize a defense.
Homicide vs. Murder vs. Manslaughter
Homicide is defined as the killing of another human being due to an act or omission of an act. Homicide is the general term, whereas murder and manslaughter are both charges that are included in the definition of homicide.
There are various charges a person can face if they are accused of killing someone. If the killing was done on purpose, they may be charged with premeditated first degree murder. If the killing was the result of an accident or negligence, they could be charged with manslaughter.
Different Degrees of Murder
When a person is accused of murder, there are several different charges which the defendant may be facing. The determining factors are based on the details of the case, whether the alleged murder was pre-planned, or if it took place in the “heat of the moment.” In Florida, a person can be charged with murder in the first, second, or third degree.
Florida Statute Section 782.04 states that murder in the first-degree is the unlawful killing of another human being, when it was perpetrated by a premeditated design or during the commission or attempt to commit a felony. The latter is referred to as Felony Murder.
For an individual to be charged with first-degree murder, it implies that the killing was premeditated, is considered a felony murder, or occurred during the distribution of illicit substances.
Premeditation is defined as planning, plotting, or deliberating to do something prior to the actual offense. One thing to note is that there is no specific amount of time that needs to pass for one to form the requisite premeditation to kill. It is only required that enough time has passed for the defendant to “reflect” on the act of killing another person.
For the government to prove a defendant has committed premeditated first-degree murder, they must establish the following elements beyond reasonable doubt:
- The victim has been killed;
- The victim’s death was a result of a criminal act by the defendant; and
- The victim’s death was premeditated.
Felony murder occurs when an individual has committed a violent felony which results in the death of another person. If a victim dies during the commission of, or attempt to commit an enumerated felony offense, the defendant can be charged with first-degree felony murder.
Offenses which qualify as a enumerated offenses for purposes of felony murder include:
- Aggravated Abuse of a child, elderly person, or disabled person;
- Drug Trafficking ;
- Robbery or Home Invasion Robbery;
- Sexual Battery; and/or
- Any other felony offense listed under Florida Statute Section 782.04.
An important detail concerning felony murder is that a person can be charged with felony murder even if they were not the one who caused the death. For example, in a bank robbery, if multiple individuals participate in the robbery, and one of the codefendants kills someone in the process, both the person who pulled the trigger and anyone else involved in the commission of the robbery can be charged with felony murder—even the getaway driver.
For the prosecution to prove the defendant has committed first-degree felony murder, they must prove the following beyond reasonable doubt:
- The victim has been killed;
- The death occurred during the commission, attempted commission, or escape from the commission of a felony offense; and
- Either the defendant caused the victim’s death, or it was caused by another person who was also committing or assisting in the felony offense with the defendant.
The final way for an individual to be charged with first-degree murder is if a death resulted from the distribution of illegal drugs or substances. This can include the distribution of any of the following controlled substances which results in a person’s death:
- A controlled substance analog described under Section 893.0356
For the prosecution to prove that a defendant has committed first-degree murder from distributing illegal drugs, they must prove the following beyond reasonable doubt:
- The victim has been killed;
- The defendant unlawfully distributed a controlled substance to the victim;
- The controlled substance was ingested by the victim, resulting in their death; and
- The defendant was 18-years-old or older when they distributed the illegal substance to the victim.
Florida prosecutes cases involving controlled substances that lead to user’s death harshly.. In other words, the State will punish drug dealers with murder charges for distributing dangerous substances to vulnerable individuals who die as a result.
In February 2023, Marco Rubio and several other Senators proposed a new bill to charge illicit fentanyl dealers with felony murder. Titled the Felony Murder for Deadly Fentanyl Distribution Act, the new legislation would add fentanyl-related deaths to the list of crimes eligible to be charged as felony murder.
Florida Statute Section 782.04 states that murder in the second-degree is the unlawful killing of another human being, when perpetrated by any act that is considered imminently dangerous to others.
For an individual to be charged with second-degree murder, it implies that the killing happened when the defendant had a depraved mind, but there was no premeditation. A depraved mind is defined as the condition where the defendant deviated from the ordinary standards of honesty, good morals, justice, or ethics from the moral sense of society. The act itself must be considered dangerous and without regard for human life. In addition, the proof of intent is not required for a person to be charged with second-degree murder.
Another instance in which a person can be charged with second-degree murder is if the defendant was an accomplice to someone else who caused the death of a victim during the commission of a felony offense. This would be considered felony murder in the second-degree.
In order to prove that the defendant had a depraved mind during a second-degree murder offense, the prosecutor must show:
- The deadly act was committed with hatred, spite, or evil intent;
- The nature of the act indicated an indifference to human life and safety; and
- Any person with ordinary judgment would know that the acts committed by the defendant would have resulted in serious bodily injury or death to a human being.
For the prosecution to prove the defendant has committed second-degree felony murder, they must prove the following beyond reasonable doubt:
- The victim has been killed; and
- The defendant may have not been the person who killed the victim, but knowingly aided, abetted, hired, or otherwise procured the commission of the felony offense which resulted in the victim’s death.
Florida Statute Section 782.04 states that murder in the third-degree is the unlawful killing of another human being, when perpetrated without any design to effect death, by a person who was engaged in the perpetration of or in attempt of any felony other than those listed under the first-degree felony murder statute.
For an individual to be convicted of third-degree murder, the killing must have been unintentional and happened during the commission of a non-violent felony offense.
Manslaughter and Aggravated Manslaughter
In Florida, a person can be charged with simple manslaughter or aggravated manslaughter. Florida Statute Section 782.07 defines manslaughter as the killing of another human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence, without lawful justification, where the killing is neither excusable homicide or murder.
For an individual to be convicted of manslaughter, the victim’s death must be caused by the negligent behavior of the defendant. Negligence is defined as the failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same or similar circumstances. This can include the defendant’s direct actions, or their omission of duty to act.
The three ways in which a person commits manslaughter are as follows:
- Manslaughter by Act – This type of “voluntary” manslaughter offense occurs when a person commits an act that is not justifiable nor excusable which results in another person’s death. In order to prove manslaughter by act, there must be evidence to prove that the defendant intentionally committed the act which resulted in the victim’s death. It is not required to prove that the defendant had an intent to kill the victim, just the intent to commit the act which resulted in the victim’s death.
- Manslaughter by Procurement – This is another type of “voluntary” manslaughter offense. When one person encourages or persuades someone else to act in a way which results in the death of another person, it is considered manslaughter by procurement.
- Manslaughter by Culpable Negligence – This type of manslaughter is considered “involuntary” manslaughter. A person can be charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence if their behavior consciously results in an act which the defendant knew, or should have known, would result in great bodily harm or death of the victim. To prove this type of manslaughter, there must be evidence to prove the negligent act was gross and flagrant.
Aggravated manslaughter is a more severe version of a manslaughter charge. The charge of aggravated manslaughter is dependent upon the characteristics of the victim. For example, if the victim of the manslaughter offense is any of the following, it could result in an aggravated manslaughter charge:
- Elderly person
- Disabled person
- Law enforcement officer
- Emergency medical technician
Florida Statute Section 782.071 defines vehicular homicide as the killing of a human being, including an unborn child by an injury to the mother, which is caused by the operation of a motor vehicle.
For an individual to be convicted of vehicular homicide, the State must prove that another person was killed as a result of the defendant operating a vehicle in a reckless manner which was likely to cause significant injury to, or the death of the victim.
Intent to kill is not required to be proven by the prosecution, but they must prove that the vehicle was operated with a failure to use ordinary care. In other words, the State must prove that the defendant acted and operated a vehicle with disregard for the safety of others.
Vehicular homicide can be charged as a second-degree or first-degree felony in Florida. For the prosecution to prove the defendant has committed first-degree vehicular homicide, they must prove the following beyond reasonable doubt:
- The defendant knew, or should have known, that the accident occurred; and
- The defendant failed to provide aid or give information which is required by law.
The State is not required to prove that the defendant knew that the accident resulted in someone’s death for them to be charged with first-degree vehicular homicide.
Penalties for Homicide Charges in Florida
The penalties for homicide vary depending on which form of homicide the State can prove. The following is a list of homicide charges and the potential penalties in Florida:
- Vehicular Homicide – A person charged with vehicular homicide faces a second- or first-degree felony in Florida depending on the circumstances of the offense. The sentencing for vehicular homicide can be up to $10,000 in fines, up to 15 years in prison for a second-degree felony, or up to 30 years in prison for a first-degree felony.
- Manslaughter – A person charged with manslaughter faces a second-degree felony. The sentencing for a second-degree felony includes up to a $10,000 fine and up to 15 years in prison.
- Aggravated Manslaughter – A person charged with aggravated manslaughter faces a first-degree felony. The sentencing for a first-degree felony includes up to a $10,000 fine and up to 30 years in prison.
- Third-Degree Murder – A person charged with murder in the third degree faces a second-degree felony. The sentencing for a second-degree felony includes up to a $10,000 fine and up to 15 years in prison.
- Second-Degree Murder – A person charged with murder in the second degree faces a first-degree felony punishable by life. The sentencing for a first-degree felony punishable by life is up to a $10,000 fine and up to life years in prison without the possibility of parole.
- First-Degree Murder – Murder in the first degree has the harshest of penalties in Florida. A person charged with murder in the first degree faces a capital felony. In Florida, the sentencing for a capital felony is either mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, or the death penalty.
Possible Defenses to Murder Charges
Given the nature of a violent offense such as murder, anyone who faces murder charges may feel as if there is no hope. However, there are defenses which can be used in a murder case. After being accused of a homicide or other violent crime, working with an experienced defense attorney is the best way to build a strong defense for your case.
The following is a list of possible defenses to a homicide charge in Florida:
- Justifiable Homicide – If the victim’s death was committed while the defendant was resisting an attempt to murder or commit a felony upon the defendant, then it can be considered a justifiable homicide. Justifiable homicide is defined as a killing without evil or criminal intent, in which there can be no blame. Although some may consider the justifiable homicide defense and self-defense the same thing, they are quite different. Justifiable homicide requires the defendant to be at their home when the death occurred. Justifiable homicide cannot be used as a defense if the victim’s death took place in a public place.
- Self-Defense – If the defendant acted to prevent great bodily injury or imminent death to themselves or another, they can assert self-defense. Florida Statute Section 776.012(2) states that a person has justifiable reason to use deadly force if they believe such force is necessary to prevent the imminent death or great bodily harm to themselves or to another person. Florida law states that the defendant is then not required to retreat, but can stand his or her ground if another person has used or threatened to use deadly force.
- Excusable Homicide – In Florida, there are three instances in which a homicide may be legally excusable. The three circumstances include the following:
- The victim’s death occurred by accident and by misfortune while doing any lawful act. A “lawful act” is any act done in a cautious way without any unlawful intent.
- The victim’s death occurred by accident and by misfortune which resulted from sudden combat.
- The victim’s death occurred by accident and by misfortune while in the “heat of passion,” which was the result of a sudden provocation. Heat of passion is a defense which can be used in both second-degree and first-degree murder cases. This type of killing occurs without premeditation. The defense must establish the following elements to prove the defendant acted in the “heat of passion:”
- A sudden act or event caused a suspended lack of judgment in an ordinary person;
- The act or event would have caused a reasonable person to lose their self-control and act out in an angry way;
- There was not sufficient time after the act or event for a reasonable person to calm down;
- A reasonable person would not have calmed down prior to committing the act which caused the victim’s death; and
- The defendant was provoked in the heat of passion, without time to calm down, and then committed an act which resulted in the victim’s death.
In order to determine which defense is applicable to your criminal case, contact an experienced defense attorney near you.
Finding an Experienced Homicide Defense Attorney in South Florida
If you or someone you love has been arrested on a murder charge, your first step should be seeking legal guidance. Homicide charges carry some of the most severe penalties in the state of Florida. Depending on the type of homicide charge, you could be facing expensive fines, extensive imprisonment, or even the most severe penalty of capital punishment. Florida is a state which still uses the death penalty.
Dealing with murder charges can be extremely stressful. An experienced homicide attorney will review all case details and seek to get your charges reduced or dismissed. At The Law Offices of Ian Goldstein, P.A., we pride ourselves on never backing down from a criminal case. Mr. Goldstein will work to provide a top-quality defense while ensuring all of your rights are protected. Contact us for a free consultation today at (561) 600-0950 or leave a message on our website for a free consultation.