The Florida law on homicide is set forth in Florida Statute 782. Florida’s statutory scheme defines the various degrees of murder, manslaughter, and vehicular and vessel homicide.
Murder in the First Degree is the unlawful killing of a human being when done with a premeditated design to effect the death of the person killed or any human being; or an unlawful killing when committed by a person engaged in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate any of the most serious or violent felony offenses listed or an unlawful killing which results from the unlawful distribution of certain drugs defined under Florida law by a person 18 years of age or older when the drug is proven to be the cause of death.
The punishment for First Degree Murder is either life in prison or death as determined by a 12-person jury under special trial procedures established in Florida.
Mr. Dirmann has handled murder, manslaughter, and vehicular homicide cases over his 40 years of criminal defense practiceSecond Degree Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being when done by an act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular person, when a person is killed in the perpetration of or in an attempt to perpetrate any of the most violent or serious felonies defined by Florida law by a person other than the person engaged in the perpetration of or in the attempt to perpetrate such felony.
The punishment for Second Degree Murder in Florida is a term of years in prison up to life imprisonment.
Third Degree Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being when perpetrated without any design to effect death by a person engaged in any felony other than the most serious or violent felonies enumerated under First and Second Degree Felony Murder.
Third Degree Murder in Florida is a second degree felony carrying up to 15 years in prison.
An example of First Degree Murder would be a person who plans a killing–who lies in wait for the victim, who kills with malice, and the specific intent to kill that person.
An example of Second Degree Murder is a person who has no specific intent to kill a particular individual but, nevertheless, fires a high-powered rifle into a moving train resulting in the death of a stranger on the train.
Third Degree Murder occurs when a person intends to steal another person’s pension check, thus committing a felony, grand theft, and while fleeing, knocking the victim down and causing injuries which ultimately result in death. In this circumstance, even if the death of the victim occurs beyond one year and one day from the actual injury, the offender could still be prosecuted for Third Degree Murder if the cause of death is proven to result from injuries the victim suffered during the theft.
Under Florida law Manslaughter is defined as killing a human being by the act, procurement or culpable negligence of another without lawful justification or excuse as defined in Florida and which killing is not murder under Florida law.
Manslaughter generally carries a penalty up to 15 years in prison. However, if the victim is either elderly, disabled, under the age of 18 or a firefighter or emergency medical technician the penalties are increased.
Florida also has specific statutes making both vehicular homicide and vessel homicide a felony.
Defense for Homicide
Florida jurisprudence has a large number of appellate cases which define the circumstances when killing another person is either justifiable or excusable. Those circumstances are usually limited to defense of self or another person when the deceased is using deadly force or force likely to cause great bodily harm or when the deceased was forcibly entering a home or occupied vehicle. In some situations, a homicide is excusable “when committed by accident and misfortune in doing a lawful act by lawful means with usual ordinary caution and without any unlawful intent, or by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation or upon a sudden combat without any dangerous weapons being used or not done in a cruel or unusual manner.” Florida Statutes, §782.03.
In the majority of homicide cases, the main issue is the intent or lack of intent of the accused given all of the facts and circumstances relating to the death and the actions, threats, and prior history of violence of the deceased. Ultimately, it is often the province of a jury to make the final decision on whether the defendant’s actions in killing another human being were justified, excusable, or based on some lawful mitigating circumstances.
Florida has created a procedure where a defendant may raise the issue of self-defense in a motion to dismiss requesting the trial court to make factual and legal findings pursuant to Florida Statute 776.012 (the self-defense statute) and Florida Statute 776.032 (the immunity from criminal prosecution statute) because the use of force was justified. These statutes are the legal basis of Florida’s “stand your ground law.”
Florida has recognized, for many years, the defendant’s right to raise the affirmative defense of self-defense at trial. The “stand your ground law” is significant in that it permits a defendant to claim immunity from prosecution in a pretrial motion to dismiss the charges. In this motion the trial judge must decide the issue of immunity by confronting the factual disputes in the case. The court may not deny the motion to dismiss simply because factual disputes exist. By raising the self-defense issue pretrial, the defendant has the burden of establishing the factual prerequisites to the immunity claim by a preponderance of the evidence.
This change in the Florida law of self-defense enables the defendant to seek immunity from prosecution and thus dismissal in a pretrial motion. If the motion to dismiss is denied by the trial judge, the defendant may again raise the issue of self-defense as an affirmative defense at trial for consideration by the jury.
Mr. Dirmann is a Sarasota Criminal Defense attorney who has handled murder, manslaughter, and vehicular homicide cases over his 40 years of criminal defense practice. Normally the case outcome will depend upon a thorough investigation of all physical evidence, witnesses, and statements; a complete review and understanding of the relevant law; and in many cases, the smallest detail that can be easily overlooked will be the key to a successful result.
Give Mr. Dirmann a call and he will gladly discuss your case with you, and give you the benefit of his many years of helping people charged with very serious crimes.