Murder offers the most severe punishments in the criminal justice system: the death penalty. No other crime allows the government to take a life. For that reason, the law treats First Degree Murder with extra safeguards. But the State of Florida punishes more than just Capital First Degree Murder. Here’s a brief write up on the charges.
First Degree Murder
Murder in the First, as people commonly call it, requires the premeditated killing of a human being in Florida. It’s more than just an intentional killing. That’s why it’s punishable by death as well as life. From the beginning, First Degree Murder charges differ from any other.
Who Brings a First Degree Murder Charge?
Normally, prosecutors file charges against you in state court. Police bring them reports and evidence to review. Then they decide whether the proof supports a crime. If so, they file an Information, which is a criminal complaint that begins a prosecution. However, a prosecutor cannot file a First Degree Murder Information.
Only a grand jury starts a prosecution for First Degree Murder. A grand jury is a group of citizens who hear live evidence presented by the prosecutor to decide whether to formally charge someone with a crime. They meet in secret and only authorized people may enter the grand jury room. This means that the prosecutor, not the defense, shows them evidence of the offense. They either find probable cause to indict, indict on a lesser charge or return no true bill. For more information on grand juries in Florida and Federal court, click here!
First Degree Murder Prosecutions
If a grand jury indicts for First Degree Murder, the case begins. Prosecutions vary if its a Capital or First Degree Murder case. Although prosecutors prove Capital Murder and First Degree Murder the same way, the punishment changes the procedure.
Within 45 days of arraignment, the prosecutor must file a notice to seek the death penalty. This notice lists aggravating factors it believes it can prove beyond a reasonable doubt. If that happens, death penalty defendants face two trials: a Guilt Phase and Penalty Phase. Therefore, the court appoints them two lawyers, one to defend each phase.
Jury selection takes longer than in most cases. Because people feel strongly about the death penalty, judges qualify special jurors to hear death cases. If a jury finds you guilty of First Degree Murder, then the judge schedules a Penalty Phase trial at a later date with the same jurors. Florida does not require a unanimous verdict in favor of death.
First Degree Felony Murder
Sometimes people kill others during the commission of felonies. They might plan the felony, but not expect to kill someone. The law treats the murder as intended. For example, you might break into an empty home, but a neighbor sees. If you kill the neighbor to avoid getting caught, you commit First Degree Felony Murder. First Degree Felony Murder punishes people who unlawfully kill someone while engaged in or attempting certain serious felonies. Check out the list here.
Second Degree Murder
Second Degree Murder requires an act imminently dangerous to another evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life. It’s punishable by up to life in prison. There’s no premeditation needed. You don’t even have to intend to cause death.
Second Degree Felony Murder
Florida law creates a Second Degree Felony Murder law as well. While First Degree Felony Murder punishes the felon for killing someone, Second Degree Felony Murder punishes the felon if anyone is killed. It doesn’t matter if the felon didn’t kill that person. Even if the police shoot and kill your codefendant during a robbery, you can be charged with Second Degree Felony Murder for the death.
Often, people commit Murder using firearms. Firearms increase the minimum punishments. Check out how in this page covering Firearm Offenses.
Not all killings constitute murders because sometimes people intend an act, but not its consequence. You might accidentally shoot someone while hunting in the woods. If it results in death, you could be charged with Manslaughter. Manslaughter punishes an intentional act, procurement of an act or culpable negligence that causes the death of the victim.
The law recognizes the difference in intent as Manslaughter is a second degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. It becomes a first degree felony punishable by up to 30 years if you cause the death of an elderly person, disabled adult or person under 18 by culpable negligence.
Talk to an Experienced Florida Criminal Defense Attorney!
But just because a person dies during a crime, it doesn’t mean that someone committed Murder. Not all killings constitute Murder. Sometimes you didn’t mean for anyone to die. Sometimes the use of force is justified. Stand Your Ground immunity extends to people charged with Murder. While you’re here, check out this post from my blog discussing a new opinion on Florida Stand Your Ground law.
Mr. Brown has prosecuted and defended people accused of Murder and he’s ready to help you too. He worked in a special unit as an Assistant State Attorney where he prosecuted Second Degree Murders. Before it’s too late, talk to him and see if he can help you best defend yourself!
The criminal defense firm Brown Legal PLLC operates from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but regularly handles cases throughout South Florida and the rest of the state. Before it’s too late, talk to Jared and see if he can help you best defend yourself! Reach out over the phone at (954) 524-6700 or through the Contact Page if you have any questions.