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Florida First Degree Murder Laws

Overview of Florida First Degree Murder Laws

Homicide, the unlawful killing of a human being, includes several degrees of murder and manslaughter under the state laws of Florida. The type of homicide determines the prosecutor's requirements and the potential punishment in the event of a conviction. First degree murder, the most serious of the homicide charges available under Florida law, includes premeditated killings, felony murders, and murders committed during specified drug dealing offenses.

For a charge of first degree murder based on a premeditated killing, the prosecutor must show the defendant's specific intent to kill. The prosecutor often must establish an advance plan or design formed to carry out the homicide. To establish premeditation, the prosecutor may need to present evidence about the defendant's activities or steps taken to prepare for the killing. 

Florida requires the prosecution of "felony murder," which also leads to a first degree murder charge, when the defendant commits homicide while during the commission of a specified felony or an attempt to carry out a felony. State laws include a list of felonies that qualify a homicide as first degree murder. These felonies include burglary, home-invasion robbery, kidnapping, sexual battery, and many other offenses, including the murder of another person. While the prosecutor must prove that the defendant intended to participate in the underlying felony, the state can proceed with the charge even if the defendant did not personally perform the killing.

Lastly, Florida state laws specify first degree murder for a homicide caused by drug dealing and the unlawful distribution of controlled substances. The drug-related offenses must involve controlled substances specified by state law, including cocaine and opium. For example, if a victim dies from a drug overdose, the state might try to prosecute the drug distributor on a charge of first degree murder.

Defenses to First Degree Murder Charges

The available defenses to a charge of first degree murder depend on the basis for the charge. The three types of first degree murder require distinct legal arguments. For example, a defendant facing a felony murder charge might try to show that he did not have the required intent to participate in the related underlying felony. Alternatively, a defendant may need to show a lack of premeditation.

Penalties and Sentences

First degree murder is a capital felony in Florida. For a capital felony, the state may pursue the death penalty. If court proceedings at the sentencing stage lead to a determination that the defendant should not receive the death penalty, state law requires a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Florida First Degree Murder Statute

Florida Statutes Sections 782.02-782.36

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- please contact a Florida criminal defense attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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