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A homicide is the killing of one human being by another human being.  Not every homicide is a crime in Florida. However, the act of murder is. Most criminal homicides can be broken down into the classification of either murder or manslaughter.

Hiring an experienced and aggressive Tampa homicide attorney can help you navigate this serious area within the criminal justice system.

Tampa Homicide Defense Attorney

If you are facing possible homicide charges (or if charges have already been filed), ask your prospective attorney if he or she is familiar with these types of charges. Reach out to Joel Elsea at Elsea Law Firm, P.A for a free consultation to receive information on homicide defense. Let us answer your questions and help you gain confidence in your representation.

Joel Elsea has years of experience navigating homicide charges in Tampa, Florida, Hillsborough County, and the surrounding Tampa Bay area. If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with a homicide crime, contact the Elsea Law Firm, P.A. today for your free consultation.

Homicide in Florida

Florida divides the killing of a person into two separate categories: murder and manslaughter.

Murder

The different classifications of murder can be broken down into the following:

  • Murder in the First Degree
  • Murder in the Second Degree
  • Murder in the Third Degree

First-Degree Murder in Florida

Florida Statute 782.04(1)(a) states that First-Degree Murder is committed when a person perpetrates either a premeditated murder or a felony murder. A First-Degree Murder is a capital offense and has two possible sentences: life sentence or death.

What is Premeditated Murder?

According to the Florida Statute 782.04(1)(a)(1) premeditated murder is when a person has pre-planned the act of killing another human, or killing after consciously deciding to do so. The decision must have already been in mind at the time of the killing. The law does not specify how much time must pass between the formation of the premeditation and the act of killing. The amount of time must only be long enough for the defendant to have reflected upon the premeditation.

Proving First-Degree Murder

To prove First Degree Premeditated Murder has been committed, the State must prove the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The victim is dead.
  2. The death was caused by the criminal act of the defendant.
  3. There was a premeditated killing of the victim.

Defending Against First Degree Murder

If there is any reasonable doubt about whether the defendant acted with a premeditated design to kill because he or she acted in the heat of passion based on adequate provocation, they could be found as not guilty of First-Degree Premeditated Murder.

An issue with the case arises when it comes into question whether the defendant acted with a premeditated design to kill. Characteristics to be questioned as to whether the defendant acted with premeditation to kill:

  1. there must have been a sudden event that would have suspended the exercise of judgment in an ordinary reasonable person; and
  2. a reasonable person would have lost normal self-control and would have been driven by a blind and unreasoning fury; and
  3. there was not a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable person to cool off; and
  4. a reasonable person would not have cooled off before committing the act that caused death; and
  5. the defendant was, in fact, so provoked and did not cool off before he or she committed the act that caused the death of the victim.

If there is reasonable doubt about whether the defendant acted with a premeditated design to kill because he or she acted in the heat of passion based on adequate provocation, it is a defense against a guilty charge of First-Degree Premeditated Murder.

Second-Degree Murder in Florida

Florida Statute 782.04(2)-(3) states that second degree murder is committed when a person perpetrates a murder with a depraved mind or is accomplice felony murder. Murder with a depraved mind means a person has killed without any premeditated design. This random dangerous act shows no regard for human life. However, unlike First-Degree Murder, this person did not have the conscious decision previously made to kill.

The penalties for second degree murder are punishable by up to life in prison, life on probation, and a $10,000 fine. In addition, Second Degree Murder committed with a firearm also falls into Florida’s 10-20-Life Law, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison.

Third Degree Murder in Florida

Florida Statute 782.04(4) states Third Degree Murder has been committed when a person unintentionally kills another person while perpetrating or attempting to commit a non-violent felony. The penalties for committing a Third-Degree Murder includes up to 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation, and a $10,000 fine.

Potential Defenses to First-, Second-, and Third-Degree Murder

Along with pretrial and trial defenses that can be brough up in any case, the defenses for different degrees of murder include:

  • Excusable Homicide – If the killing of another person was committed by accident without any unlawful intent, if the killing occurred within the misfortune in the heat of passion, or if the killing was the result of a sudden combat and the killing was not done in a cruel or unusual manner.
  • Justifiable Homicide – If the killing of another person was committed while resisting an attempt by someone else to kill or commit a felony against you.
  • Self Defense – Can also be referred to as the justified use of deadly force, counts as a defense to the crime of First-Degree Murder.

Manslaughter

The Florida Statute 782.07(1) explains Manslaughter as being committed in one of three ways:

  1. Manslaughter by Act (Voluntary Manslaughter) – An intentional act committed that was not excusable nor justified and resulted in the death of another human being.

To prove the crime of Manslaughter, the State must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The victim is dead.
  • One or more of the below elements depending on the allegations and proof.
    • The defendant intentionally committed an act or acts that caused the death of the victim.
    • The defendant intentionally procured an act that caused the death of the victim.
  1. Manslaughter by Procurement (Voluntary Manslaughter) – To persuade, induce, or encourage another person to commit an act resulting in the death of another person.
  2. Manslaughter by Culpable Negligence (Involuntary Manslaughter) – When a person engages in a conduct that is considered culpably negligent and results in the death of another person.

To prove the crime of Manslaughter, the State must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The victim is dead.
  • The death of victim was caused by the culpable negligence of the defendant.

Vehicular Homicide

This offense can be charged when someone causes the death of another while recklessly operating a motor vehicle in a manner likely to cause great bodily injury or death. When the death of the person was caused by actions not classified as reckless or intentional, this could be charged as vehicular manslaughter. Vehicular homicide is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation, and a fine of up to $10,000. This charge can increase from a second-degree felony to a first-degree felony and carry penalties of up to 30 years in prison, 30 years of probation, and a fine of up to $10,000 if the defendant fled the scene or failed to provide their information.

Is Negligence a Crime in Florida?

Every person has a duty to act reasonably toward others.  If there is a violation of that duty, without any conscious intention to harm, that violation is negligence. Culpable negligence is more than a failure to use ordinary care toward others. Culpable negligence is a course of conduct showing reckless disregard of human life, or of the safety of other people. There is a careless disregard for the safety and welfare of the public, or such an indifference to the rights of others as is equivalent to an intentional violation of such rights. The negligent act or omission must have been committed with an utter disregard for the safety of others.  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.

Understanding a Homicide Charge

Cause of Death v. Manner of Death

Cause of Death

“Cause of Death” is a term used to explain the mechanism or injury that caused a person’s death.  A forensic pathologist has some professional freedom in naming a cause of death, as there is not a set number of causes from which the pathologist must choose.  Some causes of death that might appear on a death certificate of a decedent in a homicide are terms like “blunt force trauma”, fatal loss of blood, or even the ambiguous “homicidal violence.”  A cause of death in this context will not seek the answers to questions of motive or motivation.

Manner of Death

Manner of Death are classifies as natural, accident, suicide, homicide, and undetermined.  The manner of death is determined by the medical examiner.

  • Natural Death – A natural death is death caused by disease or a medical event. Unlike in some civil matters, like a medical malpractice or nursing home neglect case, the presence of so-called co-morbidities is usually of no consequence in a criminal investigation of death.
  • Accidental Deaths – An Accidental death is an unnatural death resulting from an inadvertent chance happening. A death being classified as an “accident” does not always prevent the filing of homicide charges.
  • Suicide – Suicide is death from self-inflicted injury with intent to die. Suicidal intent could be shown by a suicide note or a prior suicide attempt.
  • Homicide – Homicide is the action of one person directly causing the death of another. An opinion of a medical examiner that a particular death is a homicide IS NOT a legal opinion of guilt or innocence of the surviving person (e.g., a defendant in a criminal case).
  • Undetermined – Undetermined is a finding in cases that have little information about the circumstances surrounding the death. An undetermined manner of death is assigned to cases of unnatural death when not enough evidence supporting a specific manner is apparent.

What to Expect from the State

Expert witnesses

As you might imagine, the State of Florida is willing to allocate a considerable amount of resources to pursue a homicide charge in court.  This effort includes expert witnesses.  An expert witness is just like any other witness who takes the stand to give testimony, except that they may also offer opinions in their area of expertise.  A forensic pathologist (a medical doctor trained to determine the cause and manner of death) will testify in every homicide trial.  The State may call other experts, such as a DNA analyst, a toxicologist, or a firearms expert.

Experienced prosecutor

The serious nature of homicide charges mean they will almost certainly be assigned to lead prosecutors with several years of trial experience.

Assigned detective with experience

Homicide investigations are typically assigned to detectives in a major crime or a homicide division.  These detectives often work in teams and rely on their many years of experience and on their advanced training.

Tampa Homicide Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one have been charged or are being convicted of a homicide in Tampa, Florida, Hillsborough County, or other parts of the Tampa Bay area, contact an experienced Tampa homicide defense lawyer as soon as possible. Joel Elsea has the experience to help you navigate these charges and work towards a favorable outcome. Call Elsea Law Firm, P.A. today to schedule your free consultation and begin working on your defense.

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