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Understanding the Difference Between First Degree and Second Degree Murder in Florida

Difference Between First Degree and Second Degree Murder in Florida

Although many people assume all murder charges are the same, the fact is that there are three degrees of murder charges. While the terminology surrounding murder charges can be confusing, understanding the differences between them is essential if you or a loved one is facing murder charges, as the degree of murder being charged will significantly impact how the case is handled and the potential sentencing options.

While the differences between first, second, and third-degree murder charges may seem minute, the degree of murder an individual is charged with is significant as it can literally mean the difference between life and death if found guilty. To help you better understand how murder charges work in Florida and the effect these charges could have on your case and sentencing, keep reading to learn about the differences between first, second, and third-degree murder charges.

First-Degree Murder

First-degree murder is the most serious murder charge under Florida law and comes with the harshest punishments. Murder cases that can result in a first-degree murder charge include those involving:

Premeditated Killings

The most common reason for a murder to be classified as first-degree is if the murder is considered willful and premeditated. The prosecutor must be able to show beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant had the intent to kill and deliberately did so. They must be able to prove that the murder was planned and the steps the defendant took to get ready to commit the crime.

Felony Murders

A murder may also be charged as first-degree if it occurred while an individual committed, or attempted to commit, a felony such as arson, burglary, kidnapping, sexual battery, or robbery. If a person dies while you are committing a felony, this can be charged as first-degree murder even if the murder was unintentional. For instance, if a robber accidentally kills a patron in a liquor store during their robbery, they may still be charged with first-degree murder.

Murders Committed During a Drug Dealing Crime

A murder must also be charged as first-degree in Florida if the murder was caused by drug dealing or during a drug-related crime. Additionally, if an individual dies of an accidental drug overdose, the state can charge the drug dealer with first-degree murder for distributing the illegal substance that led to the victim’s death.

For a murder to be charged as first-degree, the prosecution must be able to either prove that the murder was intentional/premeditated, or that the murder involved a dangerous crime.

First-Degree Murder Sentencing and Penalties

Since first-degree murders involve crime and/or malicious intent, these murder charges come with the harshest punishments. If an individual is convicted of first-degree murder in Florida, they may receive the death penalty, or they may instead be given a life sentence without the possibility of parole. In some situations, first-degree murder convictions may come with reduced sentences of around 30 years in prison depending on the nature of the crime. This makes it important that individuals facing a first-degree murder charge work with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Your attorney can try to prove that the murder was not premeditated or intentional, and they can advocate for a lesser sentence.

Second-Degree Murder

Alternatively to first-degree murder, a murder may be considered second-degree if committed by a depraved individual who acted without regard for human life but lacked pre-determination or planning. Second-degree murders may be intentional, but the killer did not have any sort of plan or premeditation. Even if they did intend to kill someone at the moment of the crime, they may have gotten caught up in the heat of the moment and hadn’t planned in advance to kill someone. An individual may also be charged with second-degree murder if the defendant did not actually intend to kill their victim and instead only had the intent to cause serious bodily harm.

Penalties for Second-Degree Murder

While still considered a serious crime, second-degree murder is a lesser crime than first-degree murder. The penalty for second-degree murder can range from 15 years in prison to a life sentence depending on the circumstances surrounding the murder.

Third-Degree Murder in Florida

Florida is one of only three states that recognize third-degree murders (the others being Pennsylvania and Minnesota). A third-degree murder involves a murder that is not pre-meditated and is committed accidentally while attempting to commit a non-violent felony. The penalties for committing a third-degree murder include up to 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation, and a fine of up to $10,000.

What Is The Difference Between First, Second, and Third-Degree Murder?

First Degree and Second Degree Murder in Florida

While murder is a serious crime that results in the death of an individual, the severity of the punishment an individual will receive if found guilty will depend on the degree of murder they are charged with. The main difference between first, second, and third-degree murder is the intent and severity of the crime. First-degree murder is pre-meditated, planned, and deliberate, which is why it carries the most serious punishment. Alternatively, second-degree murder lacks pre-determination (even if the murder is intentional at the moment), and third-degree murders are unintentional and occur during a non-violent crime.

The differences between first, second, and third-degree murder can be confusing, but it is important that you understand what distinguishes them if you are facing murder charges, as the degree of murder you are being charged with could have a significant impact on your sentencing if you’re found guilty. Fortunately, an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney can help you learn more about the differences between these charges, and they can discuss your options with you for ensuring that your rights are protected moving forward. The fact is that murder cases can be highly complex, and you will want a knowledgeable attorney by your side who can create the best possible defense strategy.

Feel free to contact us to learn more about how our experienced attorneys can help if you or a loved one is facing murder charges.

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