The definition of homicide is “the deliberate and unlawful killing of one person by another; murder.” And, under that definition, we can conclude that homicides are wrong and, in a word, inexcusable.
But here’s the thing: That doesn’t actually apply to all homicides. At least not here in Florida. Our state laws address a certain type of homicide that is known as an “excusable homicide.” That might sound surprising and appear to be an oxymoron, but it’s true.
According to Florida Statute 782.03:
Homicide is excusable when committed by accident and misfortune in doing any 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 weapon being used and not done in a cruel or unusual manner.
The statute establishes that there are three situations that could be classified as excusable homicides:
- Someone was killed by accident during a lawful act and without any unlawful intent,
- Someone was killed by accident in the heat of passion after being provoked, or
- Someone was killed during a sudden fight without a weapon or in a cruel way
An excusable homicide is similar to justifiable use of deadly force. If someone was attempting to murder you or commit a felony against you and you used deadly force against them, that offense might be considered to be justifiable.
Notice, however, that an excusable homicide isn’t the same as a justifiable homicide. Why? Because while someone might have intent to hit or hurt someone in the heat of passion or sudden combat, that doesn’t mean that they intended to kill them.
Although there are three situations that can be classified as excusable homicides, a “heat of passion” crime is usually the most common example.
What Is a Crime of Passion?
A “crime of passion” or a “heat of passion crime” describes an intensely emotional state of mind induced by a type of provocation that would cause a reasonable person to act on impulse or without reflection.
In some states, killing another person in the heat of passion can reduce a murder charge to manslaughter. In our state, it could lead to an excusable homicide. If a killing is deemed excusable, you can’t be convicted of murder and therefore won’t have to serve prison time.
When most people think about crimes of passion, they tend to think of movies or TV shows where one spouse walks in on their partner in bed with another person. The shock of the scene provokes them to react without thinking and they end up killing their spouse or the other person in bed with their spouse.
And while that is certainly an example of a crime of passion, there are other – perhaps even more common – examples.
Let’s look at a specific crime of passion here in Florida that ended up being an excusable homicide.
In 2003 in Tampa, Lawrence Storer was sitting in his car outside of his restaurant when Shantavious Wilson pointed a gun at him and demanded money. Storer thought Wilson was going to kill him and begged for his life as he went into the restaurant and gave Wilson $15.23 in change. Wilson ran off and Storer called 911, then he got back into his car and chased Wilson. The chase ended when Storer hit Wilson with his car, killing him.
Storer’s lawyer argued that his client “was confronted with a sudden, horrific situation and acted out of character” – a perfect description of an excusable homicide and a crime of passion. The jury agreed and Storer became a free man in 2006.
But all crimes of passion don’t necessarily end in a homicide. Take the notorious case of John Wayne Bobbitt. In 1993, Lorena Bobbitt attacked her husband and cut off 2.5 cm of his penis after he supposedly raped her. After the dismemberment, she threw the severed penis on the side of the highway. When she suddenly realized the seriousness of what she had done, she called 911. The jury found Lorena not guilty due to her husband’s rape and the heat of passion that provoked her.
A homicide may be excusable if it was committed during the heat of passion. If it’s not excusable, someone could still be charged with murder or manslaughter depending on the circumstances of the case. Regardless of the circumstances, though, if you have been charged with some kind of homicide or a crime of passion, you should contact an experienced Florida criminal defense lawyer to see if it might be excusable, or if the charges can be reduced, dismissed, or dropped for other reasons.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.