Murder vs. Manslaughter
Generally, people are aware that murder and manslaughter are heinous crimes of distinction. These crimes have subcategories in which murder is either first or second degree whereas manslaughter is either voluntary or involuntary. Distinguishing the difference between each charge can prove to be difficult yet the importance of obtaining the correct charge will have a deep impact on the defendant and victim’s family. When one human voluntarily or involuntarily takes another human's life, the repercussions can include either be charged with murder, manslaughter, or no crime at all. This determination carefully resides on the intention or carelessness of the defendant and nature of the crime.
Murder, also known as homicide is the legal term used for any one human being killing another human being. Some homicides can be justified such as killing in self-defense or police killing a suspect, while unlawful homicides are considered murder and manslaughter. To be charged with murder, law enforcement must show that the murder was an intentional killing that was unlawful and committed with “malice afterthought.” Law Enforcement must also show the defendant had the intention to inflict bodily harm resulting in the victim’s death and also behaves in a manner that shows extreme disregard to the victim’s life or death.
First Degree Murder
First-degree murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being that is both premeditated and willful. This means that the defendant carefully thought out and planned to commit this crime and “lies in wait” to perform this act to the victim. Commonly, states will adhere to the “felony murder law” in which a person has committed first-degree murder resulting in death from commissioning certain violent felonies such as robbery, rape, kidnapping, and/or burglary. The elements to be considered to categorize the charge to murder in the first degree include intent, deliberation and premeditation, and malice aforethought. First degree murderers must have a specific intent to take another human's life and act with premeditation and deliberation to carry out the heinous act. The intent does not have to focus on one certain victim and the length of deliberation and premeditation does not have to be a certain length. The length must be long enough that the defendant has the opportunity to second guess him or herself. While this can happen very quickly, deliberation and premeditation must occur before, and not at the same time of the act of killing. If the defendant continues to commit the act, this calls for murder in the first degree. The killer must have acted with “malice aforethought” which includes an evil purpose or disposition to the indifference of human life. Enumerated first-degree felonies are considered special types of killings and may not require the specific intent to kill, deliberation, and premeditation. Examples of enumerated first-degree felonies include arson, aggravated child abuse, robbery, kidnapping, burglary, sexual battery, and domestic violence ending in death.
The State of Florida requires prosecutors to prove the defendant’s intent to kill. To establish premeditated first-degree murder, the prosecutor must establish an advanced plan by the defendant to carry out the murderous act as well as present evidence to the court the steps and activities the defendant has taken to prepare for the murder. Florida also requires the prosecution of “felony murder” if a defendant has committed a homicide during a felony act or during the attempt of a felony act such as kidnapping, rape, home-invasion robbery, or burglary. Even if the defendant did not personally perform the homicide, the state can proceed with a first-degree murder charge if the prosecutor can prove the defendant participated in the felonious act which led to the death of a victim. The state of Florida considers first-degree murder a capital felony and may decide on the death penalty as punishment. In the sentencing stage, if the court decides against the death penalty, Florida State law requires a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Second Degree Murder
Second-degree murder is defined as the intentional killing without premeditation by the defendant. It is an act that has been caused by the defendant having no regard to human life during careless conduct. Second-degree murder is separated from a first degree in which prosecutors must decide the perpetrators mental state during the homicide. This degree of murder does not require a premeditated plan of murderous intention. However, it must show either the killing was committed out of impulse with malice aforethought, the killing was a result of an act that was intended for bodily harm, or the killing that has demonstrated the defendant's depraved indifference to human life. To perform an impulsive killing with malice aforethought does not involve any plan or premeditation and occurs only on impulse. At the moment of the murder, the killer has the intent to kill, but prior to that moment, there is no intention to commit murder. When a murder has occurred by a perpetrator after an act that was intended for bodily harm, the defendant does not intend to kill but has full knowledge that the bodily harm can result in the death of the victim. The main type of second-degree murder occurs when a defendant has performed a killing resulting in a depraved mind of indifference to human life. This generally states that the perpetrator clearly disregards his or her actions and death of a human life that will be a result of those actions.
To prove the defendant has performed the second-degree murder, the prosecutor must prove the defendant acted with a “depraved mind” with no regard to human life. The State of Florida law permits prosecution of second-degree murder when the defendant has no plan or premeditation of murder but acted with animosity towards the victim. The opposite of first-degree murder, second-degree does not require proof that the defendant acted with the intention to kill. If a victim ultimately passes away during a felonious act such as kidnapping, rape, home-invasion robbery, or burglary, Florida state law requires the defendant be charged with second-degree murder. A prosecutor must prove that the victim has died as a result of the committed act by a non-participant in order to establish second-degree murder. If the defendant or co-defendant involved in the felony caused the unlawful killing of the victim, the charge would become first degree. This law is intended to punish felonious activities that resulted in death. A defendant that has been convicted of second-degree murder as a first-degree felony may result in imprisonment for up to thirty years. Florida State law also permits the state to request a sentence term of life imprisonment.
Third Degree Murder
Florida is one of the few states to uphold third-degree murder classification. In the State of Florida, third-degree murder is defined as the unintentional killing of one human being from another while attempting to commit or committing a non-violent felony crime. One notable exception to the standard of a non-violent third-degree felony is the controlled substance exception. This states that if a person dies by ingestion of a controlled substance, the defendant shall be held responsible for first-degree felony murder. Third-degree murder can be classified as an excusable homicide or justifiable homicide. For this be an excusable homicide, the killing must have been committed accidentally and by misfortune during any lawful act within lawful means, the killing occurs accidentally during the “heat of passion”, or when the killing is by accident during sudden combat. For the killing to be a justifiable homicide, it must be committed during an attempt to resist a felony against you or to protect your own demise. Self-defense is a justified use of deadly force and is classified as second-degree murder. Third-degree murder is classified as a second-degree felony and under the Criminal Punishment Code is assigned as a Level 8 offense. If the defendant is convicted of third-degree murder, required by Florida Law, he or she will face a minimum of ten in a half years (10 ½ ) imprisonment, zero grounds to impose a downward departure and any combination of up to fifteen (15 years) imprisonment, fifteen(15) years’ probation, and/or up to $10,000 in fines.
Manslaughter is defined as one human being committing the unlawful killing of another human being without malice aforethought, intent to kill, or reckless disregard for life. The distinction between murder and manslaughter is that murder must prove intent to kill, whereas manslaughter must prove no intent to kill. Though manslaughter is not as serious as murder, this is a crime of distinction and is not considered a lesser degree of murder. Manslaughter can be either voluntary or involuntary depending on the mental state of the defendant at the time of occurrence. However, the charge of manslaughter is neither excusable nor justifiable in which punishment is little to none. The State of Florida has established laws defining the criminal offense of manslaughter as not meeting the criteria of murder. Unlike murder, manslaughter does not require proof that the defendant acted with intent, premeditation, or a depraved mind. Instead, the state prosecutors must show proof of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter
Voluntary manslaughter is defined as an intentional killing that has been accompanied by other circumstances, resulting in one’s death. Typically, the defendant has been provoked by certain circumstances that have sparked anger, rage, fright, terror, or desperation and is considered a “heat of passion” homicide. Along with establishing the defendant’s intent and provocation, the prosecutor must also prove the defendant's act was the sole reason for the victim’s death. An existing general rule states that any defendant acting in self-defense may only use force that is reasonable in preventing harm to him or herself unless the defendant honestly believes deadly force is an absolute necessity in protecting his or her own life. The state of Florida prosecutes voluntary manslaughter as a second degree felony, with the possibility of a fine of $10,000, a term of fifteen year’s imprisonment, or both. If aggravated manslaughter has been committed such as manslaughter against a child or elder, the state will then treat this offense as a first degree felony which will increase the maximum penalty of up to thirty year’s imprisonment. The State of Florida also requires the criminal history of the defendant to be entered into consideration to determine whether the defendant is a habitual offender or career criminal.
Involuntary manslaughter is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being with no intent or malice aforethought. This crime is best described as a defendant performing a reckless act or criminal negligence that results in an unintentional killing. Typically, the stems from an unlawful act that is either a misdemeanor or low-level felony such as a DUI (driving under the influence) resulting in the unintended death of the victim. Generally, this consists of disregarding human life by performing a reckless, unlawful, or negligent act resulting in death. Three elements must be satisfied by the courts for the defendant to be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. This includes determining whether a human life was taken by the defendant, the act was either dangerous or reckless disregard for other human lives, and whether the defendant was in the mental to state to know whether his or her conduct was of any threat to the lives of others. The most common charges of involuntary manslaughter stem from a motorist driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in the wake of a deadly crash. While the defendant did not intend to kill anyone, his or her negligence of operating a motor vehicle while impaired suffices the requirements to be charged with involuntary manslaughter.
The State of Florida will allow the prosecutor to consider a manslaughter charge if the homicide does not fit the criteria of murder. A prosecutor must establish involuntary manslaughter by proving the defendant acted with culpable negligence in the disregard of any human life while participating in a reckless act or behavior. The state will also establish involuntary manslaughter if the prosecutor can prove the defendant used excessive force during self-defense or the defense of another human being. Prosecution and defense must review facts and circumstances to determine whether the defendant had reasonable belief the self-defense was necessary. If these facts prove it was not necessary, the state will proceed with involuntary manslaughter charges. Florida laws establish that involuntary manslaughter is a second degree felony and is punishable by either a fine of $10,000, probation, a term of fifteen year’s imprisonment or all three. If aggravated manslaughter has been committed such as manslaughter against a child or elder, the state will then treat this offense as a first degree felony which will increase the maximum penalty of up to thirty year’s imprisonment. The State of Florida also requires the criminal history of the defendant to be entered into consideration to determine whether the defendant is a habitual offender or career criminal.
Negligent homicide is defined as one human being killing another human being without malice or through gross negligence. Generally, negligent homicide is the lowest offense of homicide and does not include premeditation or malice aforethought. Since the charge does not presume premeditation, prosecutors must focus on what the defendant knew or should have known and the risks associated with what he or she knew. This charge is typically classified alongside involuntary manslaughter. If prosecutors find evidence of malice or intent, the charge will be upgraded to negligent in seeking the death of the victim. There are three elements the state must prove. Element one includes that the state must prove that the defendant was aware of an unjustifiable risk associated with the event that ultimately led to the death of a human being. Element two must prove the act or omission, while element three must show causation. This creates a direct link between the death of the victim and the negligent action that caused the death.
Negligent homicide is associated with failing to follow common safety rules and standards of conduct that lead to the death of another human being. There are several different types of negligent homicide but the most common include profession, vehicular, and intoxication. Professional negligence occurs when a company or professional atmosphere produces poor conduct or safety hazards that will create circumstances that lead to the death of a human being. Vehicular negligence occurs when the defendant has recklessly operated a motor vehicle such as a car, boat, or plane in a manner that has caused circumstances leading to the death of a human being. Negligence by intoxication occurs when a defendant has become excessively intoxicated leading to reckless behavior, therefore creating a hazardous circumstance’s which leads to the death of an individual. The killing is determined unintentional and without malice because there is no intent is harming another human being. Punishment can range from state to state but the general overall punishment of negligent homicide can range from probation to up to ten year’s imprisonment. Negligent homicide charges are used by prosecutors in a wide range because the amount of different situations that cause another human's death. This type of charge is commonly used to prosecute companies that were aware and did not avoid unjustifiable risk leading to another human’s death.