First-degree murder is considered the most serious degree of murder. To be classified as first-degree, a murder must contain the following elements:
- Intent. The perpetrator must have attacked or harmed the victim with the intent of ending their life.
- Premeditation. Premeditation describes the process of planning or thinking about the murder beforehand. First-degree murders are not a crime of passion but a deliberate, thought-out crime.
- Malice aforethought. This legal term describes a general disregard for human life.
The main difference between first-degree and second-degree murder is premeditation. Any alleged perpetrators shown to have prepared for the crime can be charged with first-degree murder.
What Are the Penalties for First-Degree Murder?
First-degree murder convictions often carry the most substantial punishments. In Florida, first-degree murder charges have the possibility of the death penalty. Penalties could also include life in prison without the possibility of parole or life in prison with the possibility of parole, depending on the nature of the crime and the severity of the murder. Because first-degree murder carries such severe penalties, multiple aggravating factors need to be true for a guilty verdict.
There are many aggravating factors a court will use to determine guilt in a first-degree murder case, including if:
- The defendant has previous murder convictions
- The defendant is under felony probation
- The defendant knowingly acted dangerously
- The victim was a police officer on duty
- The murder was especially cruel
- The murder involved poisoning
- The victim was under 12 years old
What is Second-Degree Murder?
Second-degree murder is still a serious charge, although not as serious as first-degree murder. To be charged with second-degree murder, the crime must contain at least one of the following elements:
- Intentional killing without premeditation. This means the perpetrator did not plan the murder ahead of time.
- Intent to only cause serious bodily harm. A perpetrator may still intend to harm someone without the intention of killing them.
- Extreme indifference to human life. Negligent or dangerous behavior that leads to death can sometimes carry a second-degree murder charge.
- Felony murder. If a victim is killed during a felony crime, like a robbery, a perpetrator can be charged with second-degree murder.
What Are the Penalties for Second-Degree Murder?
Second-degree murder is classified as a first-degree felony in Florida. Anyone convicted of second-degree murder could face penalties like life in prison, life on probation, and up to $10,000 in fines. Depending on the nature of the charge, a judge may reduce the sentence to the minimum penalty, which is 16 to 25 years in prison.
If an individual is convicted of a felony murder charge, meaning they killed someone while committing a felony, only two options are available. The court must sentence the perpetrator to life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.
What Are Common Defenses Against Murder Charges?
Just because you have been charged with murder does not automatically make you guilty. An experienced defense attorney can review your case and develop a solid legal strategy to reduce or remove the penalties against you.
While your specific defense strategy will vary, our firm may use one of the following legal strategies in your case:
- Justifiable homicide. The murder was committed to prevent someone from killing you or committing a felony against you.
- Self-defense. The murder was committed because you feared for your life. Florida is a stand-your-ground state, meaning you can use deadly force to protect yourself or your property if necessary.
- Excusable homicide. The murder was committed by accident or in the heat of passion. This defense strategy is only a viable option for second-degree murder charges.
How Can a Defense Attorney Help Me?
Whether you are charged with first-degree or second-degree murder, the conviction can come with severe penalties. Hefty fines, prison time, parole, and even the death penalty are on the table for most murder charges.
With the right defense attorney on your side, you can negotiate with prosecutors and have representation in court to defend yourself and reduce or remove the penalties you are facing. If you have been charged with a crime, don’t hesitate to reach out. Contact The Defense Group today at 407-743-8430.