Homicide is the most severe crime in Florida. Anyone facing murder charges should immediately meet with an attorney to go over the facts of the case and put together a defense. Florida still has the death penalty, so those charged with first-degree murder might face the ultimate punishment. Even a conviction for a lesser homicide defense could send you to prison for a decade or more.
The Watson Firm has defended those accused of violent felonies and can represent you. There is little time to waste if you have been accused of murder. Please get in touch with us as soon as possible so we can get to work defending you.
What Is First-Degree Murder In Florida?
First-degree murder is a capital felony in Florida. It consists of either intentionally killing someone in a premeditated manner or killing someone while committing a violent felony, such as:
- Sexual battery
- Drug trafficking
- Human trafficking
- Aggravated child abuse
- Aggravated abuse of a disabled child or elderly person
- Home invasion robbery
- Aggravated stalking
- Using a bomb or destructive device
For example, ringing your ex-wife's doorbell and then shooting her on the porch would be first-degree murder. The killing was not accidental but intentional. You thought about whether to kill her, even if only for a short time.
Further, killing someone during an armed robbery is first-degree murder, even if you didn't intend to kill them. You are committing a violent felony when your victim dies, so the state wants to punish you as if you intended to kill your victim.
If you are convicted of first-degree murder, you can be sentenced to life in prison without parole or the death penalty.
What Is Second-Degree Murder In Florida?
With second-degree murder, the defendant does not intend to kill the victim. However, the defendant causes the death by committing an imminently dangerous act that illustrates a depraved mind without respect for human life.
For example, you could face second-degree murder charges if you let a pit bull loose to attack your neighbor, hoping to hurt but not kill her. Even though you didn't intend the death, this action reveals a depraved mind.
You can also face second-degree murder charges if you are participating in a felony (like those listed above) and someone you are committing the crime with kills someone. This is called accomplice felony murder. For example, you participate in an armed bank robbery, and the leader of your group kills a teller. Although you didn't cause the act, your participation in the felony is enough.
Second-degree murder is a first-degree felony. You can face 30 years in prison if convicted.
What Is Third-Degree Murder In Florida?
This is a killing done without intent or malice while committing or attempting to commit a nonviolent felony. It is a second-degree felony in Florida, with a maximum of 15 years in prison.
What Is Manslaughter In Florida?
Any killing done with reckless disregard for life is manslaughter. You can face a maximum of 15 years in prison for most convictions because this is a second-degree felony.
If the victim was a child, an elderly adult, or a disabled person, you can face first-degree felony charges. The same is true if you used a gun.
Can I Be Charged With Vehicular Homicide?
Yes, you can face vehicular homicide charges if you cause a death while driving recklessly. For example, if you ran a red light and struck a pedestrian or drove into a crowd in the crosswalk. Reckless does not mean negligent (careless). It is a higher standard.
Vehicular homicide is usually a second-degree felony with a maximum of 15 years in prison. But if you refused to help a victim after hitting them, you can face first-degree felony charges if they die. That means a maximum of 30 years in prison.
How Do You Defend Against Florida Homicide Charges?
First, we take a close look at the charges. If you are charged with first-degree murder, for example, the state needs to show that you committed a violent felony when the death resulted or that you deliberately killed someone. If the state doesn't have evidence of either fact, they can't convict you of first-degree murder.
In that case, however, they might have enough for a second or third-degree murder charge. As you can see, there is a ladder of homicide charges, with first-degree at the top. If the state lacks the evidence for a higher homicide charge, they might have enough for one on a lower rung.
It's always helpful to try and get charges reduced. That would mean less time in prison, but it's not an acquittal.
Can I Claim Self-Defense?
Possibly. You can defend yourself if you or someone else is attacked. This right to self-defense includes a right to use lethal force in some situations.
Florida has several laws on self-defense. Generally, you can use lethal force if you reasonably believe it is necessary to prevent:
- An imminent forcible felony, like burglary or kidnapping
- Imminent death
- Imminent serious bodily harm
You can use self-defense if the violence is directed at you or someone else. You have no duty to retreat but can stand your ground. However, you must legally have a right to be where you are and you can't be committing a crime.
You can also use deadly force to resist any felony committed against you in your home.
There's a lot to unpack here. The law doesn't give you the right to use lethal self-defense whenever you want, or if you see someone standing outside with a gun. Instead, self-defense is legitimate only if you reasonably believe it is necessary because death or bodily harm is imminent, meaning very close to happening. A prosecutor will look at all the facts, and a jury will analyze what a reasonable person would believe in similar situations.
Self-defense is often successful when someone breaks into your home or violently attacks you with a weapon. You would not be successful if you shot someone after looking out of a second-floor balcony and seeing someone holding a gun on the sidewalk but not threatening anyone. Consult an attorney right away since the law on self-defense is very complex.
What Other Defenses Can You Argue?
A prosecutor must have proof beyond a reasonable doubt that you killed the victim. We often raise doubt by arguing mistaken identity.
It's not unusual for the police to arrest the wrong person for a killing. Although detective shows give the impression that DNA evidence exists in every case, that's not true. Many murder charges rest on grainy video footage or eyewitness testimony at night and little else. You might not have been anywhere near the crime, or you were with a group but not doing anything.
We can try to find alibi witnesses, as well as proof you were somewhere else, like an ATM withdrawal far from the crime scene. This evidence helps show that the police captured the wrong suspect.
Contact An Experienced Florida Homicide Defense Attorney Today
If you are facing homicide charges, please immediately contact The Watson Firm. The penalties if convicted are so severe that you want to do everything possible to bring a strong defense. Our firm has the experience you need, so contact us today by calling 850-607-2929 or submitting an online message.