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Understanding Florida’s Murder Laws – Degrees of Severity


Murder is considered the most serious crime that someone can commit. In many cases, an accused may try to plead innocent of all charges. But in other cases, the question may not be guilt or innocence, but rather, minimizing the sentence that could be imposed. In that case, it’s important to understand the differences between the kinds of murder that someone can be charged with.

First Degree Murder

The most serious murder charge is first degree murder. This is murder where someone has premeditated and deliberated.

Courts will often ask whether the accused could have changed his or her mind—if so, then the person had ample time to have premeditated the murder. There is no time limit—for example, a certain amount of time doesn’t have to have expired for there to be premeditated murder. If it was deliberate, planned, and thought out, it could be first degree murder.

Second Degree Murder

Second degree murder is murder without premeditation. It is the angry, irrational act.

A classic example is road rage, where someone fueled by anger commits a violent act on another person.

Second degree murder can also constitute an act so careless that it is guaranteed to end up with a murder—for example, you can’t hit someone on the head with a rock and then say you didn’t mean to kill them. That’s second degree murder, because the action is so dangerous, and so wanton, that death or great bodily harm was almost guaranteed to occur.

Third Degree Murder

Third degree murder is often called voluntary manslaughter, but in Florida, it is just called third degree murder. This is a murder where someone didn’t intent to kill someone, but did intend to commit a violent crime or violent act. It also may be a “crime of passion” killing, where a circumstance exists that so clouds someone’s judgment, and so fills them with rage, that they cannot control their emotions.

A classic example is someone who “accidentally” kills someone who they thought was an intruder, or where someone kills a spouse who confesses to cheating. The question is whether a reasonable person would be driven to emotional distress, trauma, or impulse, given the circumstances.

Mind you, these factors won’t excuse the murder or make it justifiable—they only lower the degree (and thus the penalty) for murder.

Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter is a charge where someone is so reckless, so culpable or careless, that a death occurs, although there is no intention for a death to occur.

Examples may be a drunk driver, who may not intend to kill anyone when he or she gets behind the wheel. A doctor who over-prescribes medicine who may “just want to help,” may be liable for involuntary manslaughter if there is a death. A police officer who is otherwise conducting a lawful arrest, but who uses excessive force and kills someone, can also be guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Have you been arrested or are you charged with a crime? Get help now. Contact the Miami criminal attorneys at Velasquez & Associates P.A. today for help.



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