Understanding the meaning of ‘homicide’ and the degrees of murder in Florida
A homicide occurs when one human causes the death of another. Not all homicides involve criminal actions, and not all homicides lead to a criminal charge. For example, a broad definition of homicide might include a state-sanctioned killing, such as capital punishment (the death penalty). A legal homicide might also involve self-defense or a death caused by someone who is legally insane.
However, homicides obviously can result in extremely serious criminal charges, including manslaughter, vehicular homicide and murder. There are also multiple degrees of these charges, representing the gravity of the specific alleged crime.
Degrees of murder
In Florida, there are generally three degrees of murder. Each is a very serious charge, with first-degree murder being the most serious.
First-degree murder: First-degree murder is generally defined as a killing that was intentional and pre-meditated (involving prior thought and planning).
A murder charge might also be elevated to first-degree murder if the killing occurred while the accused was committing or trying to commit another serious offense. Examples of such offenses that could elevate a murder charge to first-degree include home invasion, aggravated child abuse, kidnapping, robbery, carjacking, human trafficking, sexual battery, arson and resisting an officer with violence. In some cases, a person may face a first-degree murder charge if the killing happened while the accused was committing a drug offense.
Second-degree murder: Often second-degree murder is charged when a killing happens in the heat of passion or as the result of an act that shows a reckless disregard for human life. In Florida, second-degree murder does not have to involve premeditation or intent to kill. For example, if a person fires a gun at or near a gathering of people and the bullet strikes and kills someone, the person who fired the gun could be accused of acting with a reckless disregard for human life — and therefore charged with second-degree murder — even if there was no intent to kill.
Third-degree murder: A person could be charged with third-degree murder if a death happens unintentionally while the accused was allegedly committing or trying to commit another felony. As with second-degree murder, a third-degree murder does not have to involve premeditation or intent to kill.
For more on these matters, please see our overview of violent crime defense in Florida. Our firm represents accused individuals throughout Palm Beach County.