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Understanding the Differences Between Murder and Manslaughter in Florida


One of the more complex aspects of Florida criminal law is the distinction between murder and manslaughter. Many people mistakenly believe that if someone is killed due to the actions of another individual, that is murder. However, that is not accurate. If you took the life of another person, you could face one of several different criminal charges. 

Key Distinction Between Murder and Manslaughter

Murder is the unlawful killing of another person with “malice aforethought.” This basically meant that you intended to kill someone. There was some level of premeditation. Manslaughter still involves the unlawful killing of another person, but you did not do so with malice or intent. Manslaughter is still a serious crime but the punishment, if convicted, is typically less severe than a murder conviction. 

Two Degrees of Murder

In Florida, you could be charged with either first degree murder or second degree murder. First degree murder charges are considered to be the most severe and are punishable by death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. First degree charges are typically filed if there is evidence of a premeditated killing or if someone died during the course of a felony crime. Felony murder can be charged even if you did not kill the individual. If you were involved in the felony (e.g., an accomplice), you can still be charged with felony murder.

You could be charged with second degree murder if there is no evidence that you intended to kill someone.  Instead, proof of a a “depraved mind” without regard for human life when the killing lacked premeditation or planning is required. Unlike first degree murder, second degree murder does not necessarily require proof of the defendant’s intent to kill. 

Three Types of Manslaughter

In Florida, there are three distinct types of manslaughter charges that could be filed against you. There is voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and vehicular homicide.

As mentioned, manslaughter is the killing of another person without the intent to kill. In regards to voluntary manslaughter, this could occur if you were provoked. For example, if you come home from work and find your spouse in bed with another person and that sends you into a blind rage resulting in death. This scenario may result in voluntary manslaughter charges.

Involuntary manslaughter is generally considered to be the least severe homicide charge under Florida law. For example, let’s say you are outside engaged in target practice with some friends. You start to jokingly point the gun at one of your friends. You’ve had a couple beers and you inadvertently pull the trigger killing your friend. This scenario could serve as the basis for an involuntary manslaughter charge.

Finally, there is vehicular homicide. Under Florida law, if you cause a fatal car wreck and someone dies as a result, you could be looking at vehicular homicide charges. You could also face these charges if an unborn fetus dies in the collision.

All manslaughter charges are categorized as second degree felonies under Florida Law. This means a conviction could result in a prison sentence of up to fifteen years and a monetary fine of up to ten thousand dollars. 

Contact a Winter Park Criminal Defense Attorney Today

If you or a loved one is facing murder or manslaughter charges, you need an experienced and aggressive defense attorney to advocate on your behalf. The Winter Park lawyers of Cotter Zelman, P.A. are here to help. We have a reputation for skillfully and effectively representing Floridians in complex criminal matters. Contact our office today.

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