If you have been criminally charged as the result of another person’s death, you are facing a legal battle that may literally be the fight of – and for – your life.  Historically, a murder charge could be brought only if there was evidence that the killing was deliberate. However, Florida’s criminal code has expended the definition to include some unintentional killings.  The law recognizes three principal types – called “degrees” of murder, with the key distinction among them being the actor’s intent.

First Degree Murder

First-degree murder occurs when there is a death of another human being as the result of the defendant’s “premeditated design”. In other words, if the killing was planned in advance – even if only by a few hours or even minutes – it was ‘premeditated” and first degree charges can be brought. However, a first degree murder charge may also be brought when a death – even though not intentional – is one that occurred during the course of certain other serious crimes, most of which involve violence. These include arson, sexual battery, robbery, burglary, kidnapping, aircraft piracy and narcotics trafficking. Say, for an example, an arsonist for hire burns down an apartment building he was told was vacant. In reality, there were residents, and one or more were killed in the fire. In addition to arson, the firebug can now be charged with first degree murder, despite the lack of planning or intent to cause anyone’s death.

A defendant convicted of first degree murder in Florida faces the possibility of death by lethal injection.

Second Degree Murder

Florida state law defines second-degree murder as a killing in which the defendant’s actions demonstrate a “depraved mind” and a lack of regard for human life.  No proof of intent to cause the death of any particular individual is required to support a conviction. In addition, if you participate in a felony in which someone dies, you may be charged with second degree murder, even if you were not directly responsible. Say you were the lookout for the arsonist described above. Although you didn’t set the fatal fire, you can still be charged with murder in the second degree. Although second degree murder is not punishable by death in Florida, a conviction can still result in incarceration for life.

Third Degree Murder

Like second-degree murder, a third-degree murder charge does not require the prosecution to prove the death was intentional.  It is distinguished from second-degree murder by the seriousness of the crime in which the defendant was involved at the time of the unintended killing.  In general, an unintended death that occurs while the defendant was committing a crime that is not considered a violent felony will likely be prosecuted as third-degree murder.

Defenses to a Murder Charge

Florida considers killings that occur under certain limited circumstances to be “excusable” or “justified”. The most commonly raised justification is self-defense or defense of one’s home or family.

The Importance of Effective Legal Representation

Murder is, of course, among the most serious offenses in the criminal law. If you have been or expect to be charged as the result of a homicide, you need an aggressive and committed defense attorney with you in each step of the process. The attorneys at Orner Law, LLC have many years of combined experience in representing South Florida residents charged with homicide and other serious crimes.  We will use every legally and ethically available tool to ensure that you are afforded all the procedural protections to which you are entitled by law.