First Degree Murder
The one word that defines a first-degree murder charge is "premeditation". This one word will distinguish it from a second-degree murder charge where malice toward the victim could be proven but there was no planned aforethought and the killing was more of a spontaneous act of passion. First-degree murder is the most serious charge of all homicides.
In Florida, a conviction for a first-degree murder charge is punishable by a sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole. It is defined as a capital felony and in under certain conditions the prosecution can press for the death penalty. So the stakes couldn't be higher. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who has experience in first degree murder cases should be retained at the earliest time when it is known that a murder investigation involving premeditation is underway or if an arrest has already been made.
Felony Murder will also be charged as murder in the first degree when the accused commits murder during certain specific felonies or the attempt of them. Among the list of these crimes are drug trafficking and distribution, burglary, home-invasion robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, sexual battery, resisting a law enforcement officer with violence, acts of terrorism and several other offenses defined under Florida law. An accomplice of any of these crimes will also be charged with first degree murder even if they were not the particular person that caused the death, and if it can be proved that they willingly agreed to participate in the underlying felony.
On other pages of this Website, examples of manslaughter, both voluntary and involuntary as well as second-degree murder have been referenced to explain the differences in the charges as well as the penalties and defenses that can be used to contest the prosecutions allegations. Below will be listed an example of a first-degree murder scenario so that the charge of this particular crime can be understood and the differences from the other charges previously written about will be easily distinguished. Click the above links for definitions of those other charges.
The example below is fictional but will explain why first-degree murder is different from all other homicide charges:
James went to a ballgame with his son and was enjoying the day when Mark, another fan sitting behind him started kicking the back of his seat. James turned around and asked Mark to please stop. During the course of the progression of the game Mark kept kicking the chair on various occasions and additionally spilled some of his beverage on James causing him to continually ask him to stop and watch what he was doing. James became angered and finally started cursing at Mark who finally stopped kicking his chair. But James was still maddened.
After the game ended, James made it a point to follow Mark back to his car, noting the make and model as well as entering the license plate number into his smart phone. He and his son then went to their car and returned home. He complained to his wife about the events of the day and was still upset by Mark's actions and emotionally wanted to do him harm.
A few days later, James noticed the same car leaving a local convenience store. He followed the car until it came to a house a few miles away from where he lived. Pulling over to the other side of the road he watched a man get out of the car and enter a residence. Even from that distance the man had a strong resemblance to what he remembered of Mark's appearance. He checked his smart phone and saw that the license plate number matched the car that Mark was driving when he left the ballgame.
Over the course of the following few weeks, James made it a point to watch Mark's actions and learn his every day routine. He found out that Mark left home for work every morning at 7:00am and left work each day at 5:00pm. He also observed that Mark stopped at a nursing home in a different part of town every Wednesday after work and went inside for an hour or so. He also noticed that Mark usually parked his car on the opposite side of the street from the building he entered.
After watching for a few weeks and noting that the street was usually empty of pedestrians, Mark decided that he was going to run Mark down when he crossed the street to return to his car. Just as planned the event took place one Wednesday evening when Mark was returning to his car. When the police and paramedics arrived, Mark was pronounced dead at the scene.
This killing was an act of first-degree murder. James planned the killing over several weeks before he carried it out. It was a premeditated killing.
However, for there to be a charge brought against James he would first have to be found by law enforcement and the events described above would have to be substantiated.
During an investigation, police would question would-be witnesses in their attempt to piece together the puzzle to arrest a suspect. Let's say there were witnesses that saw the attack and were able to identify the vehicle that fatally struck Mark. And through further investigation detectives were able to find other evidence that pointed the blame toward James or someone that fit his description. To arrest him and have a good case they would first need to show that James had means, motive an opportunity.
Although what's written above seems to show James guilty of first-degree murder, it's only a fictional account and only what the author interpreted to actually have happened from the story created in his mind. In a real life situation similar to this, it's possible that it's only a partial story and other events that transpired were left out of the story.
If James is arrested and charged with the crime and the case goes to court it will now be up to a jury or the court to decide his guilt or innocence. Keep in mind that before an actual trial would begin many other phases of the process of law would take place including a grand jury hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to move forward with a trial. James may also be offered a plea deal that would be discussed; whether to accept or reject with advice from his counsel.
If a case similar to this goes to trial the prosecution may call James's son to testify. A person's offspring are not protected under privilege (marital privilege, spouse-witness rule) as a spouse would be. James's son's testimony may influence the court or a jury's perspective if he were to testify that he and his father did not go directly to his father's car at the end of the game. But at the same time a court or jury may not give weighty credibility to the testimony of a young child, and a defense attorney may be able to cast doubt on any unfavorable testimony.
Other witnesses may have been interviewed during a police investigation such as residents from the area or passersby that James wasn't aware of. These witnesses may be called at trial conveying further information that may enhance the prosecution's case.
Identifying James and the car he was driving, by an eyewitness would be the most important link that the prosecution could hope to acquire. Forensic evidence such as a matching tire marking or blood of the victim being found on James car could be further damaging evidence. Being able to place James' car at the scene of the crime at or around the time the incident occurred could demonstrate a higher probability for the court or jury to make assumptions that he was the responsible party who committed the act. Alternately, if James can provide a solid alibi negating the prosecution's claims it might be difficult to advance their case further no matter what circumstantial evidence they may have at hand.
It is also possible that the investigation produced other persons that attended the ballgame and were in close proximity to where the exchange took place. A witness of this type might demonstrate the motive for the further actions taken by the accused. Motive doesn't necessarily need to be proved, but demonstrating its existence in many cases can often help convince the court or a jury of being one of the elements needed to return a conviction.
As a criminal defense attorney I am informed of all information gathered by the prosecution on my clients' behalf through the phase known as discovery. This phase takes place before a trial begins and gives me ample time to initiate my own investigation. In addition to all witnesses and other evidence that the prosecution will present at trial I am able to further find and present any other witnesses that may challenge the prosecution's witness testimony and exhibits at the conclusion of my own investigation. I'm also able to have certain evidence excluded from being heard at trial when I can demonstrate just cause as well as discrediting witnesses that may have a separate grievance with my client outside the realm of the immediate case. This is done through the motions process which can occur before as well as throughout a trial and into the appeals process if that route is taken after a negative outcome.
In our criminal justice system it is always the burden of the prosecution to prove guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt. My lengthy career of courtroom experience both in my prior campaign for the prosecution and now as an advocate for the defense has given me the ability to find and analyze any conflicting evidence that may be produced by the opposing side as well as the findings of my own investigation which can leave a jury with an imperfect picture, casting that doubt before commencement of their deliberations.
In which way the opposition will move forward in a first-degree murder case can be challenged by methods I've acquired during previous actual courtroom appearances in the state and federal prosecutor's office. I've developed the proper insight and attained the necessary tools to contest allegations based on the evidence at hand whether charges are maintained by the office of the state or federal government.
It is always up to the client to decide how to proceed in the event a plea deal is offered. However my guidance and understanding are incorporated when weighing the pros and cons to assist in making the correct decision if it appears that the scales of justice are tipped heavily in the wrong direction. If evidence does not point in our favor, my many years of experience in these types of cases will always make available to my client the best options when making a conclusive decision.
But in the event of a client being wrongly accused, although a plea deal may be on the table I'll vigorously fight to defend a client's rights throughout a trial and far after into the appeals process if an unfavorable outcome is returned by a judge or jury.
Retaining my services at the earliest point of a first degree murder investigation or after an arrest is made will always initiate the best possible outcome by allowing my crafting of a strong defense no matter what the initial evidence may suggest.
If you, a friend or loved one is facing charges for First Degree Murder, my office can provide the skilled representation that's essential to provide the best outcome of a case.
Call directly at any of the phone numbers displayed at the top or bottom of each page of this Website or fill out the short contact form also found on each page or the detailed form by clicking this link. The earliest point that contact is made the better chance I have of returning the best possible outcome by building a strong defense challenging all charges alleged.