Criminal homicide is an umbrella term that encompasses specific charges for specific circumstances when a human life is unlawfully taken by the act of another. Both murder and manslaughter fall under that umbrella, but according to Florida statutes, describe two very distinct situations. Because a human life has been lost, however, a homicide charge of any kind is generally the most serious one a person may face.
The vast majority of prosecutions for criminal homicide occur in state courts. Federal homicide prosecutions are limited to killings that take place on U.S. property, such as a military base or national park, or when a killing takes place during the commission of certain specific federal offenses, such as drug trafficking or human smuggling. For the most part, the following information equally applies in both jurisdictions.
Under Section 782 of the Florida Statutes, criminal homicide is defined as “the unlawful killing of a human being.” This separates murder and manslaughter from justifiable homicide, such as self-defense, or excusable homicide, which may result from an accident or misfortune with no underlying criminal action.
First-degree murder can be proven one of two ways: through a showing of premeditation, or prior plan or intent to kill, or as a felony murder. Basically, a felony murder occurs when another specified crime (arson, robbery, kidnapping, sexual battery, etc.) takes place, and an innocent party dies as a result, or during the course, of the other crime. Premeditation is simply a killing done after making a conscious decision to do so. The decision to kill must be in the mind of the killer at the time of the killing. No minimum time frame is required, so long as the decision is made calmly and deliberately, and not out of sudden anger or spite.
A conviction of either type of first-degree murder brings either a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole, or death by lethal injection. This is a capital charge — the most serious accusation one can face in our system of justice.
Second-degree murder does not involve premeditation, but can and often does involve prior malice, spite, or ill will (such as a killing during a fight). Or if two co-felons commit a crime, and one co-felon dies as a result, the surviving co-felon may be prosecuted for the death of his cohort. Second-degree murder in Florida is a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison without parole.
Manslaughter applies to a situation in which no premeditation, spite, or ill will is present, but a death occurs without justification or excuse (such as a shooting caused by careless handling of a loaded firearm). Manslaughter will also apply if a person dies in a motor vehicle accident in which the vehicle operator has done so in an illegal or unsafe manner (e.g., by speeding, or driving under the influence). Manslaughter is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
In second-degree murder and manslaughter cases, the degree of the felony is increased, or enhanced, if a firearm is involved. Second-degree murder with a firearm is enhanced to a life felony, while manslaughter with a firearm becomes a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Under Florida’s “10-20-Life” statute, where the victim’s death was caused by the unlawful discharge of a firearm, the court must sentence the defendant to a minimum 25 years, up to life in prison with no parole. In very few second-degree murder cases involving firearms do defendants receive anything less than life in prison.
Third-degree murder arises when an innocent person dies as a result of the commission of any crime that does not qualify under the felony-murder statute (e.g., grand theft). Third-degree murder cases in Florida are extremely rare.
Of all the laws in the Florida or U.S. criminal code, those addressing criminal homicides carry the most serious consequences possible, because they involve the unlawful taking of a human life. These cases will normally be investigated by the most experienced police personnel available, and prosecuted by highly experienced and skilled government attorneys. Those prosecutors will have access to a vast array of resources and services in building the case against the client. The facts of the case may garner intense media attention, which is usually never favorable to the accused. If the person is convicted, a comprehensive, effective presentation for sentencing must be devised. These cases test the expertise and dedication of a criminal defense attorney like none others.
Being named as a suspect or “person of interest” in a homicide case can be one of the most intimidating, terrifying situations a person can find himself or herself in. If you or someone you love is in such a position, contact Tony Moss immediately at 877.547.9407, or at Tony@TonyMossLaw.com.