No crime is taken more seriously than the killing of another human being. The laws relating to Murder and the killing of another can be quite complex, and a person believing they are merely admitting to the commission of one crime in hopes of avoiding a more significant charge may later find they have made a full confession to murder.
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The most commonly understood charges in the killing of another person are First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder, and Manslaughter. First Degree Murder is generally known as “premeditated murder.” The legal definition is the unlawful killing of a human being “when perpetrated from a premeditated design to effect the death of the person killed or any human being.” Under the law, the term “premeditation” does not require any particular amount of time for reflection like one might anticipate. While premeditation is typically thought to require elaborate planning, in the eyes of the law there is no timeframe required. Such “premeditation” may occur in a matter of milliseconds, seconds, minutes, hours, or days. Regardless of the amount of time which exists in a given case, prosecutors take advantage of this argument and may charge First Degree Murder even though the facts do not appear to warrant such a charge.
Second Degree Murder is typically known as “depraved mind” murder. This charge requires that the killing be “perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life.” This is much more of a spur-of-the-moment killing, merely requiring that a person intended to commit an act that was likely to cause death and did not care whether death was the result of his or her act. Second Degree Murder is a first-degree felony and carries a potential sentence of life in prison.
Manslaughter is the killing of another by act, procurement or culpable negligence without legal justification. This is typically charged in those cases where death was specifically not an intended result, but which did occur from a person’s act. Manslaughter is a second-degree felony, unless committed against the elderly or disabled, a child under 18 years old, a law enforcement officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician or paramedic, in which case it is a first-degree felony.
Under Florida law, there is also something called the “Felony Murder” rule. This rule provides that if another human being is killed during the commission of an enumerated felony by one or more of the perpetrators of that crime, anyone involved in the commission of that felony may be charged with First Degree Murder. These enumerated felonies include:
a. Drug trafficking,
c. Sexual battery,
h. Aggravated child abuse,
i. Aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult,
j. Aircraft piracy,
k. Unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device of bomb,
m. Home-invasion robbery,
n. Aggravated stalking,
o. Murder of another human being,
p. Resisting an officer with violence to his or her person,
q. Aggravated fleeing or eluding with serious bodily injury or death,
r. Felony that is an act of terrorism or is in furtherance of an act of terrorism; or
s. When death results from the unlawful distribution of a controlled substance when such drug is proven to be the proximate cause of the death of the user.
This rule can, and has, resulted in significant and unexpected consequences for people involved in dangerous felonies and neither intended nor expected another person to be killed. For example, if two people conspire and rob a convenience store, and during that robbery the store clerk is shot and killed by one of the perpetrators, both individuals may be charged for First Degree Murder in relation to the store clerk’s death. This result is the same even if there was a prior agreement between the perpetrators that no one would be killed, and regardless of whether the non-shooter was ever aware the shooter had a firearm before or during the commission of the robbery.
Under the Felony Murder Rule, it is Second Degree Murder if a person is killed during the commission of any of the enumerated felonies by someone other than those engaged in the actual perpetration of the crime. Using our previous scenario, if the store clerk or other third party shot and killed one of the perpetrators during the commission of the robbery, the co-perpetrator could be charged with Second Degree Murder for his friend’s death.
It is Third Degree Murder, punishable as a second-degree felony, if a person is killed during the commission of any felony that is not listed under the statute.
Whether charged as murder or manslaughter, all cases involving the death of another human being are severe and taken very seriously by prosecutors across the state of Florida. While the family of the victims of murder or homicide have input into how a particular case is resolved, only the prosecutors have final decision-making authority. Even if a victim’s family is asking for mercy or leniency for a defendant, prosecutors can and often do seek the maximum penalty under the law. As a result, all of these cases must be handled the same regardless of who the victim is or how close they were to the person being held responsible for their death.
If you believe you are under investigation or have been charged with Murder or Manslaughter, contact the Law Office of John M. Phillips as soon as possible to discuss your case.