Florida Statute 782.04 defines First Degree Murder as a killing that is "perpetrated from a premeditated design to effect the death of the person killed or any human being." The Florida Criminal Jury Instructions explains that a defendant is not guilty of First Degree Murder unless the State of Florida proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing was a premeditated murder, a "killing after consciously deciding to do so." The decision to kill must be proven to be "present at the time of the killing", but that the "law does not fix the exact period of time that must pass."
Defenses to First Degree Murder include misidentification, self defense, cause of death, alibi, excuse, neglect , justification, or the crime was committed in the heat of passion and therefore is only a Second Degree Murder.
The great majority of murder cases involve the defense misidentification. There often is no controversy that the victim of the homicide is dead and there is little doubt that someone committed a murder based on how the victim was killed, but that the Defendant was not the person who committed the murder. This defense requires a very highly skilled attorney to be effective.
In other instances the defendant in a homicide presents their version of what happened that led to the homicide in an attempt to get a verdict of guilty on a lesser charge that does not potentially bring the death penalty as a consequence.
Complete defenses to a murder such as self defense or alibi usually require the defense to call witnesses and can require the defendant to testify in their own defense. In these case, the defense not only attacks the witnesses and evidence as presented by the State, but the defense builds a case to present to the jury as what really happened in a matter. This is a complex task that brings risks as well and must be done in the methodically and carefully.
The penalties for First Degree murder include the death penalty. Florida has a highly complex set of criteria for what qualifies as a death penalty worthy case. Ultimately, the State Attorney in the jurisdiction where the case is being tried makes the final decision about whether the death penalty is sought in a particular matter. Additionally, a Defendant must be indicted by a grand jury prior to the trial in front.
Shawn Arnold is a Board Certified Criminal Trial Attorney and heads our Jacksonville Murder Defense team. Mr. Arnold has handled homicides as a prosecutor and defense attorney. The experience of learning how to build a case and how to tear one down can provide the edge needed in defending against a Jacksonville murder charge. For a Florida murder, a Georgia homicide, or any kind of murder defense in federal or state court, contact us to discuss your murder defense needs.