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Murder vs. Manslaughter: What's the Difference under Florida Law?

If someone dies at the hands of another person, most people would probably think the charges are pretty cut and dry. It’s a murder, right?Not so fast. If you are accused of taking the life of another person, you could find yourself facing one of several different charges.Let’s go through the different charges that someone can find themselves up against in Florida if they are charged with ending someone’s life.First Degree Murder. These charges are the most severe in the state of Florida. You may be charged with first-degree murder charges in the following situations:

  • Premeditated Killings: If the prosecution can prove that you made a conscious decision to kill your victim, then the murder will be considered a premeditated killing.
  • Felony Murder: If the murder happened while carrying out a felony or attempting to carry out a felony, then it is considered a felony murder. Even if you did not personally kill the victim, if you were involved with committing the felony associated with the felony murder, you may still be charged.
  • Homicides Involving the Unlawful Distribution of Controlled Substances: If a person dies from a drug overdose, the state may seek justice in the form of penalizing the drug dealer or distributor. Though the prosecution may want to pursue a charge of first-degree murder, these cases would rarely be charged as such,  more likely second-degree or first-degree felony murder.

The penalty for first-degree murder in Florida is life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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Second Degree Murder.Second-degree murder is less severe than first-degree murder because it lacks the planning or intention of a premeditated killing. The defendant may have had a relationship or interaction with the victim, but did not have a plan to commit the homicide against them.The key distinction of a second degree murder charge is that the prosecution has to show that the defendant has a “depraved mind” with disregard for human life.Second degree murder charges may be penalized by up to life in prison.Voluntary Manslaughter. Manslaughter is usually defined as the killing of someone without intention, but there is more to the definition than that (as well as different degrees of manslaughter). Voluntary manslaughter can arise out of a provocation.If the homicide was the result of an intense emotional response (like heat of passion), then the charge may be considered voluntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter still requires some intention to kill, but out of an emotional response, and without a plan.Involuntary Manslaughter. This is the least severe homicide charge. A relationship with the victim or the intention to perform the act that killed the victim are not necessary for this charge.Vehicular Homicide. In some states, causing a car accident that results in death is simply considered a manslaughter charge. However, this is a separate charge in Florida known as vehicular homicide or vehicular manslaughter. You can also be charged with vehicular homicide if you cause a car accident and kill an unborn fetus.

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All charges of manslaughter, whether or not the actions were voluntary or involuntary, are second degree felonies in Florida. The defendant may be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison and face fines of up to $10,000. Whether or not the crime was voluntary or involuntary, however, may have a big impact on the judge’s decision and the final ruling.Aggravated voluntary or involuntary manslaughter is bumped up to a first degree felony (up to 30 years in prison). Aggravating factors may include the age of the victim (a child or a senior), a past criminal record, or the use of a firearm or deadly weapon in the death. If you have been charged with aggravated manslaughter, you may want to try and negate the aggravating factors for a mitigated sentence.Other defense strategies appropriate for homicide-related charges will depend on the circumstances of the crime, as well as the particular charge you are facing. If you have been charged with murder or manslaughter in Florida, it is crucial to get in touch with a skilled criminal defense lawyer immediately.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.

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