If you have killed someone, you must seek immediately the services of a skilled, experienced criminal defense lawyer.
The unlawful taking of human life is the most serious crime with which one can be charged. A defendant who lacks legal representation will be at a major disadvantage.
At The Ansara Law Firm, we know the challenges faced by such defendants. While defendants in these cases are staring down severe consequences, we also know prosecutors bear the burden, and proving murder – especially first-degree murder – can be challenging. This usually allows an experienced murder defense attorney to employ a range of strategies in order to defend a client.
There are varying degrees of murder recognized in the state of Florida, and the approach of your lawyer will likely depend heavily on how the homicide is classified.
These classifications include:
- First-Degree Murder – This is the most serious, and involves a death that is intentional and carried out with prior thought and planning. It may also involve an unintentional death that occurs while a person is committing another serious offense, such as child abuse, carjacking, sexual battery, trafficking in controlled substances or robbery.
- Second-Degree Murder – This is the unlawful killing of a human being with no premeditation.
- Third-Degree Murder – A second-degree felony, this is a lesser version of second-degree murder, wherein a person is killed unlawfully, but defendant had no intention to cause the individual’s death. It may also be charge if the death occurred in the course of distribution of controlled substances or when controlled substances resulted in a death.
- Attempted Felony Murder – A felonious act (even if it’s not carried out) that could have caused the death of another person. Prosecutors don’t need to show you were the perpetrator, only that you supported or encouraged the felony. It may also be charged if injury occurs to someone in the course of a felony.
- Manslaughter – This is murder without intent. It involves a death that results from culpable negligence. In some cases, this can be a first-degree felony (when involving the death of a police officer, EMT, paramedic, firefighter, elderly person, disabled person or someone under 18).
- Vehicular Homicide – This is when someone recklessly operates a motor vehicle, resulting in the death of another person. The crime becomes far more serious if the defendant leaves the scene of a crash.
- Death of Unborn Child – This is when injury or death to a pregnant woman results in the death of her unborn child. In some cases, a person whose actions result in the death of a fetus may be charged with first-degree murder or manslaughter.
There are also separate statutes for vessel homicide, assisted self-murder and unnecessary murder to prevent an unlawful act.
These classifications, definitions and penalties are laid forth in F.S. § 782.02 - § 782.36.Penalties for Murder Conviction in Florida
The penalties for a murder conviction in Florida vary greatly, depending on classification and underlying circumstances. The label of “murder” comes with varying shades of complexity, and thus there exists a large range of penalties.
There are some situations in which judges may have a fair amount of discretion following a conviction, but in other cases – such as a capital murder conviction – there are only two outcomes: Life in Prison or the Death Penalty.
In other cases, there may be no minimum mandatory and broad discretion is given to both the prosecutor and the judge.
Penalties may be enhanced for factors such as:
- Prior criminal offenses (particularly as a habitual felony offender)
- Gang affiliation
- Vulnerability of victim (i.e., mental disability, elderly, incapacitated, under 18, etc.)
- Leadership role of defendant
- Hate crime
- Use of deadly weapon
These are referred to as “aggravating factors.”
Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys work to suppress evidence of aggravating factors. Meanwhile, if the offense isn’t denied outright, we may seek to underscore certain “mitigating factors,” which would support leniency in sentencing.
Examples of mitigating factors include:
- Lack of prior criminal record
- Minor role in offense
- Culpability of victim
- Past circumstances (i.e., abuse) that resulted in criminal activity
- Circumstances of the offense that may not excuse, but offer explanation (i.e., provocation, stress, mental health trouble)
- Physical illness
- Genuine remorse
There are a host of potential strategies your defense lawyer may choose to employ in order to further your best interests. Depending on the existing evidence, that could mean fighting to suppress certain evidence, challenging the credibility of key witnesses, arguing a general lack of proof or providing new evidence to show the killing was justified or excusable.
For example, a justifiable homicide may occur when a person is acting in self-defense or in defense of others, fearing his or her own safety or the safety of others may be at stake. In some cases, insanity, intoxication or diminished capacity (i.e., temporary insanity) may be asserted not so much to excuse the crime, but to reduce the severity of the charge in order to obtain a lighter sentence.
Your Fort Lauderdale homicide defense attorney may also challenge reliability of the evidence against you. The fact is, misidentification of a defendant is more common than most people realize. It’s been proven one of the least reliable pieces of evidence in any criminal case is eyewitness identification. At the same time, juries take eyewitness testimony quite seriously, so it’s imperative to effectively challenge it.
Similarly, many murder prosecutions increasingly rely heavily on forensics. Both judges and juries give this evidence great weight. However, some of this “science” has been proven faulty. For example, many medical doctors and scientists now decry evidence once seen as solid proof of “shaken baby syndrome.” Similarly, bite mark forensics were at one time described as indisputable. Now, scientists largely reject it as speculation.
Other kinds of scientific evidence includes:
- DNA testing
- Accident/incident reconstruction
- Fingerprint analysis
- Decomposition studies
- Ballistic testing
Our team has the experience, knowledge and skill to use this kind of evidence to our advantage, and to raise significant doubt about that which may damage your credibility or case.