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Tallahassee Murder and Homicide Defense Attorney

Pumphrey Law represents people charged with homicide and murder offenses in Tallahassee, Florida, and the surrounding counties. Through the use of forensic experts, private investigators, as well as modern technology, the criminal defense attorneys at Pumphrey Law leave no option unexplored and fight for the rights of the accused.

Different Types of Murder and Homicide Charges in Florida

Homicide vs. Murder vs. Manslaughter

Homicide is simply the killing of another person. This could be on purpose (premeditated murder) or accident (vehicular manslaughter) and it could be legal (self-defense) or illegal. Murder and Manslaughter are illegal killings. Murder is a killing with malice, or on purpose, whereas manslaughter is usually an accident or mistake.

First Degree Murder

A First-Degree Murder charge means that the crime is believed to have been either a felony murder or premeditated. Premeditated murder is when the crime is planned ahead of time. The law does not state a specific amount of time that must pass between the formation of the premeditation intent to kill and the killing of the victim. However, the amount of time must be long enough to allow the defendant to “reflect.”

In a premeditated first-degree murder, the prosecutor has to prove the following:

  • The victim is dead
  • The death was caused by the criminal act of the Defendant.
  • The killing was premeditated

Another form of first-degree murder is felony murder. Felony murder is when the alleged homicide occurs during the commission or attempted commission of another qualifying felony. These felonies include:

It is important to know that for felony murder, the accused does not have to be the one who “pulled the trigger.” For example, the getaway driver in a bank robbery can be charged with felony murder if the robbers inside the bank shoot the bank teller in the course of the robbery. State Attorney, Ed Brodsey said, “There is no small role that you can play if it results in someone’s death.” In these first-degree felony murder cases, the prosecutor does not have to prove that there was premeditation or intent to kill.

In a first-degree felony murder case, the prosecution must prove the following beyond a reasonable double:

  • The victim is dead
  • While engaged in the commission (or attempt to commit or while escaping) of a felony, the defendant (or defendant’s accomplice) causes the death of the victim
  • The defendant was the person who killed the victim or the victim was killed by another person, but both the defendant and the person who killed the victim were in the commission of a crime

First-degree murder can also result from the distribution of illegal controlled substances (e.x. cocaine, opium, methadone, alfentanil, carfentanil, fentanyl, and other enumerated controlled substances) which causes the death of another.  In these cases the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The victim is dead
  • The defendant unlawfully distributed an enumerated controlled substance to the victim
  • The controlled substance caused the victim’s death.
  • The defendant was at least 18 years old when they distributed the substance to the victim.

Put simply, this section of the statutes permits the prosecutors to charge drug dealers with murder. For example, Jamil Mahshie was charged with murder in March 2022. Jamil sold fentanyl to an individual who later died due to a drug overdose. The prosecutor, in this case, does not have to prove that Jamil intended to kill the victim. Instead, the prosecutor has to prove that Jamil caused the death by selling the victim those drugs.

Second Degree Murder

A Second-Degree Murder charge is levied when a homicide occurs and the defendant had a depraved mind, which means there was no premeditated design but the act itself was imminently dangerous and shows no regard for human life. The intent is not necessary for second-degree murder. In proving that the defendant acted with a depraved heart the prosecutor must show that:

  • A person of ordinary judgment would know that the acts taken by the defendant would result in the death or serious bodily injury to another
  • The act was done with ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent
  • The nature of the act indicates an indifference to human life

Another version of this charge is if the individual charged was an accomplice to someone who kills an individual during the commission of a felony. This is felony murder in the second degree. In these cases, intent to kill is not necessary. The prosecutor must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt in second-degree felony murder cases:

  • The victim is dead
  • The defendant was not the person who killed the victim, but the defendant did commit (or knowingly aid abet, counsel, hire, or otherwise procure) the commission of a felony.

Third Degree Murder

Third Degree Murder is when one person unintentionally kills another person while in the commission of, or attempt of, a nonviolent felony crime. If charged with any form of homicide, it is critical to contact an experienced murder charge defense attorney in Tallahassee, FL as soon as possible. 

Manslaughter

Manslaughter means that the death was caused by the negligent actions of another. Negligence arises when there is a breach of duty. Everyone has a duty to act reasonably towards each other. If there is a violation of that duty, without any conscious intent to harm, that violation is negligence. A defendant cannot be guilty of manslaughter by committing a merely negligent act.

There are three ways that manslaughter may be committed, by an act, procurement, or culpable negligence.

  • Manslaughter by Act – When someone commits an unjustifiable or excusable act that results in the death of another. Also known as voluntary manslaughter. To prove this type of manslaughter, the evidence presented must show that the defendant intentionally committed that act that resulted in the death of the victim. To be clear the prosecutor does not have to prove that the defendant had the intent to kill, just the intent to commit the act.
  • Manslaughter by Procurement – This is another type of voluntary manslaughter. Procurement is when one individual persuades or encourages another to act in a way that results in the death of another person.
  • Manslaughter by Culpable Negligence – When the defendant is accused of culpably negligent behavior leading to the death of another person. Also known as Involuntary Manslaughter. Mere negligence is not enough to prove manslaughter, the negligence must be gross and flagrant. Culpable negligence is consciously doing an act or following a course of conduct that the defendant must have known, or reasonably should have known, was likely to cause death or great bodily injury.

Aggravated manslaughter is charged when the victim meets certain characteristics. If the victim is an elderly person, disabled adult, child, officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician, or a paramedic, then the accused is charged with aggravated manslaughter which is a first-degree felony, whereas manslaughter alone is a second-degree felony.

In a recent case, a mother was charged with aggravated manslaughter in the death of her 5-year-old daughter. The mother was fleeing from the police and led the police on a high-speed chase. She crashed into a retention pond on Interstate 95, where the child died and was found at the bottom of the pond.

Vehicular Homicide

Vehicular Homicide is when an individual causes the death of another person while recklessly operating a motor vehicle in a way that is likely to lead to death or great injury. The State does not have to prove the defendant intended to harm or injure anyone. However, the reckless operation of a vehicle requires the prosecutor to prove more than a failure to use ordinary care. A “reckless manner” means willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. “Willful” means intentional, knowing, and purposeful. “Wanton” means a conscious and intentional indifference to consequences and the knowledge that damage is likely to be done to persons or property. To prove that the defendant committed vehicle homicide, the prosecution has to prove:

  • At the time of the accident, the defendant knew, or should have known, that the accident occurred; and
  • The defendant failed to give information and render aid as required by law.

The prosecutor does not have to prove that the defendant knew that the accident resulted in injury or death. In 2021, Cameron Herrin began his 24-year sentence for vehicular homicide. Cameron was 18 years old when he killed Jessica Raubenolt and her daughter on Bayshore Boulevard.  Evidence showed that Cameron was traveling at 102 MPH in a 45 MPH zone. If charged with this crime, it’s critical to contact a vehicular homicide defense attorney in Tallahassee, FL as soon as possible. 

Punishments for Murder Charges in Florida in Florida

First Degree Murder Sentences

Anyone accused of First-Degree Murder is suspected to have premeditated the act or committed felony murder. The penalty for First Degree Murder in Florida is death or life in prison.

Second Degree Murder Sentences

The penalty for Second Degree Murder in Florida is life in prison, life on probation, and up to a $10,000 fine.

Third Degree Murder Sentences

The penalty for Third Degree Murder in Florida is up to 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation, and up to a $10,000 fine.

Florida Manslaughter Sentences

The penalty for Manslaughter in Florida depends on whether a weapon was used and if the act was voluntary. The charge of Manslaughter could carry up to 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation, and up to a $10,000 fine. However, if a weapon was involved, this could result in up to 30 years in prison, up to 30 years on probation, and a fine as high as $10,000.

Vehicular Homicide Sentence

The penalty for vehicular homicide in Florida is up to 15 years in prison, 15 years on probation, and up to a $10,000 fine. However, if the defendant fled the scene or failed to provide aid or their information, the 2nd-degree felon becomes a 1st-degree felony and carries a sentence of up to 30 years in prison, 30 years of probation, and a fine of up to $10,000.

Defenses to Murder Charges

Self-defense

Florida statutes permit the use of deadly force when a person reasonably believes that using deadly force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to themselves or another person. Deadly force may also be justified to prevent a forcible felony. A person in these circumstances has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand their ground.

A forcible felony means murder, manslaughter, sexual battery, carjacking, home-invasion robbery, kidnapping, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, and more enumerated felonies in Florida Statute Section 776.08.

A defendant trying to prove self-defense also has to show evidence proving that they were not engaging in criminal activity and that they had a right to be in the location.

Learn more about the history of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law here.

Justifiable homicide

Justifiable homicide is the killing of a person if necessarily done while resisting an attempt to murder or commit a felony upon the defendant, or to commit a felony in any dwelling housing in which the defendant was at the time of the killing. The key difference between justifiable homicide and self-defense is that justifiable homicide requires that the defendant is at home when the killing takes place. A defendant cannot use the “justifiable homicide” defense when they are out in public, instead, a defendant will then use the self-defense statute which permits the use of deadly force in public.

Excusable homicide

There are three circumstances where an excusable homicide has occurred. The following are the three circumstances where an excusable homicide may occur:

  • When the killing is committed by accident and misfortune in doing any lawful act by lawful means with usual ordinary caution without any unlawful intent.
  • When the killing occurs by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation.
  • When the killing is committed by accident and misfortune resulting from sudden combat.

Heat of passion is a defense available for first and second-degree murder. Heat of passion means that the defendant did not premeditate the killing. Instead, the defendant acted in the heat of passion based on adequate provocation.  Defense attorneys must show the following to prove that the defendant acted in the heat of passion:

  • There must have been a sudden event that would have suspended the exercise of judgment in an ordinary reasonable person; and
  • A reasonable person would have lost normal self-control and would have been driven by a blind an unreasonable fury; and
  • There was no a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable person to cool off; and
  • The reasonable person would not have cooled off before committing the act that caused death; and
  • The defendant was provoked and did not cool off before they committed the act that caused the death

If the jury finds that the defendant acted in the heat of passion, rather than with the premeditated intent to kill, then the jury should not find the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. The court in Taylor v. State stated that heat of passion is a state of mind resulting from a legal provocation, arguments alone are not sufficient enough to qualify as a legal provocation.

In a second-degree murder case, the heat of passion defense is used to negate the element of “indifference to human life.” If the jury has a reasonable doubt about whether the defendant had a depraved mind without regard to human life because they acted in the heat of passion, then the jury should not find the defendant guilty of second-degree murder.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Tallahassee

If you or a loved one are charged with Murder, an experienced murder defense lawyer in Tallahassee, FL can defend you. It is critical to contact an experienced homicide attorney as soon as possible. All forms of homicide are major charges, with severe consequences. Our attorneys will seek to get your charges reduced or dismissed, and if you plead “not guilty,” they will fight the prosecution in court. The defenses to homicide and manslaughter are complicated and require the expertise of criminal defense attorneys. Call the Pumphrey Law today at (850) 681-7777 to set up a free consultation to talk about your homicide charge.


Page last updated on May 17, 2022

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