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What’s the Difference Between First- and Second-Degree Murder?

August 6, 2021 / Criminal Defense

In Florida, the difference between first- and second-degree murder is whether the killing is premeditated, it occurred during a felony, was due to selling illegal drugs or is the result of a “depraved mind.” Depending on the facts, the line between the two degrees may not be clear, though the differences in sentencing may be life and death. Prosecutors seek the death penalty in first-degree murder cases. The worst sentence for a second-degree murder conviction is life in prison.

If you face murder charges, your life is at stake. Our Panella Law Firm criminal defense attorney is ready to start your defense as soon as you hire us. Call us at 407-233-1822, so we can talk about your case. We will treat you with the respect and professionalism you deserve. We will aggressively fight for you, your rights, and your freedom when we negotiate with law enforcement and prosecutors, as well as in court.

What Does First-Degree Murder Mean?

Homicide, or illegally killing someone, is broken down into several degrees of murder and manslaughter under Florida law. The facts should determine what degree applies in a case. There are different elements to each degree. They all must be proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, by the prosecution.

The sentences are most harsh with first-degree murder, then generally become less severe with other degrees charged. What does first-degree murder mean as far as a possible sentence? If convicted of first-degree murder in Florida, your punishment will be death or life in prison.

First-degree murder includes:

1. Premeditated Killing

The prosecutor must show beyond a reasonable doubt that you had a specific intent to kill and deliberately did so. This often means there was a plan or design to do it. It’s usually shown by establishing the activities or steps you took to get ready to commit the crime. Witnesses could testify about whether you spoke about committing the crime before it happened and what your possible motive was.

2. Felony Murder

Felony murder can be charged if a homicide occurred while you committed or while you tried to commit a specific felony listed in state law. They include burglary, a home-invasion robbery, kidnapping, sexual battery, and murdering another person. The prosecutor must show you intended to participate in the underlying felony. You don’t need to commit the killing to be convicted.

3. Death Caused by Dealing Drugs and Related Crimes

First-degree murder can be charged if a death results from drug dealing and the unlawful distribution of controlled substances, like an accidental overdose. The offenses must involve controlled substances spelled out in state law, including cocaine and heroin.

Possible defenses to a first-degree murder charge are based on the facts of the situation. They can include that the death was not premeditated or intentional but was an accident or an act of self-defense. You could try to show you weren’t involved in the felony or didn’t sell the drugs that caused the death.

What Does Second Degree Murder Mean?

What does second degree murder mean? It’s an unlawful killing caused by an act that’s imminently dangerous to another and shows a depraved mind, but there was no planning or premeditation to commit the homicide.

State courts have ruled that this includes:

  • A killing that was the result of ill will, hatred, spite, or evil intent
  • An act that a person of ordinary judgment would know is reasonably certain to kill or cause serious bodily injury
  • Acts showing indifference to human life.

The required intent can be inferred from the circumstances and be shown by the defendant’s acts before and after the use of deadly force.

Second-degree murder can be charged if a crime victim dies during the commission of a felony specified by statute (burglary, home-invasion robbery, and others). The prosecutor would need to establish that the deceased was the victim of a second-degree murder committed by someone other than the person charged.

What does second-degree murder mean for possible penalties? If you’re convicted of second-degree murder you could be sentenced to a term in prison ranging from 15 years to life. Defenses could be mistaken identity, the death was accidental, or it was excused under the law as a defense against an attack on you or another.

There’s No State Charge More Serious Than Murder

If you’re charged with first- or second-degree murder, you’re facing some of the harshest penalties the criminal justice system can impose. This is why you need to retain the most qualified criminal defense attorneys you can. Our Orlando homicide lawyers will fight aggressively and protect your rights and freedom. The Panella Law Firm doesn’t avoid tough cases. They’re the cases where clients need legal representation the most.

Murder cases can be highly complex. Apparently strong prosecution evidence can have weaknesses when you look at it closely. An effective defense begins when we thoroughly investigate what happened, how, and why. Understanding the facts and your possible role helps us create effective defense strategies.

If you’re charged with homicide, you may feel alone. But you don’t need to go through this difficult legal battle on your own. Time is short, and you need the best possible defense lawyer. Contact an Orlando homicide lawyer at the Panella Law Firm today at 407-233-1822 to start the process.

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