gavel and handcuffs murderMurder is among the most serious charges a person can face. It is, for instance, the only crime for which Florida can impose the death penalty. If you’ve been arrested or indicted for killing another person in the state of Florida, the first thing you need to know is which murder charge you’re facing. There are three “degrees” of murder, and the penalties range from a fifteen-year sentence to lethal injection.

First-Degree Murder

First-degree murder is the most serious type of murder with which you can be charged. There are three reasons why a prosecutor might label a murder as first degree:

  1. The murder was premeditated. You took the time before committing the act itself to think about and plan what you would do.
  2. While attempting to commit a qualifying crime, you or an accomplice caused someone’s death. Examples of qualifying crimes include carjacking, burglary, arson, and child abuse.
  3. You can also be charged with first-degree murder for distributing a controlled substance if that distribution leads to someone’s death.

There are two possible penalties for a first-degree murder conviction: the death penalty and life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Second-Degree Murder

Prosecutors charge second-degree murder for two specific reasons.

  1. Death was caused by an act “imminently dangerous to another” and “demonstrating a depraved mind.” In essence, you took action that you knew was inherently dangerous and was likely to cause someone’s death. In contrast to first-degree murder, however, you did not plan your actions ahead of time.
  2. During the commission of a qualifying crime, someone was killed, though not by you or anyone else participating in the crime. Here again, there are a number of possible qualifying crimes, such as home invasion, kidnapping, and sexual battery.

Second-degree murder is a first-degree offense in Florida. As such, the minimum sentence is sixteen and three-quarters years in prison without the chance at parole. The maximum sentence is life. Of course, aggravating factors can raise the minimum. If you use a firearm while committing the crime, for example, the minimum sentence rises to twenty-five years.

Third-Degree Murder

Finally, prosecutors can charge you with third-degree murder under only one very specific circumstance. As a result, this charge is rare.

  • While attempting to commit a non-violent crime (a crime not on the qualifying list for first and second-degree murder), you or your accomplice caused someone’s death.

The sentence in third-degree murder cases is ten to fifteen years in prison.

Additional Penalties

Prison, fines, and probation are serious penalties in and of themselves. Many people forget, however, that a murder conviction, even for third-degree murder, can have repercussions that extend well beyond the sentence you may have to serve.

A prison sentence is obviously an enormous disruption in your life. It means giving up your friends, your family, your spouse, and your children. Ten years is a long time, and even your most cherished loved ones may not be there when it’s all over.

Likewise, a prison sentence will likely put an end to your career. Employers don’t hold jobs open while you take time to serve your sentence. While you’re being held, you won’t be able to keep up with what’s happening in your field, you won’t be able to practice your skills, and you won’t be able to advance. You’ll likely start back at square one when you’re released—if you’re lucky.

After a murder conviction, you will have a criminal record that you’ll have to carry around for the rest of your life. Right or wrong, everyone uses background checks now. Even if you do the minimum—a ten-year sentence—you’ll find it difficult to find employment once you’re released. In fact, you may even struggle to find a place to live. Rental agencies aren’t anxious to rent to felons.

Why You Need an Attorney

The bottom line is this—if you’ve been charged with murder, absolutely everything is at stake. And fighting the charge won’t be easy. Murder cases often involve many complications, and prosecutors will do almost anything to ensure a conviction. You cannot hope to deal with this situation yourself. From the very moment you’re arrested, you need an experienced, qualified attorney at your side. An attorney can make sure no one violates your rights, they can prevent you from doing or saying anything that might hurt your case, and they can represent you in interviews and before the court.

Don’t wait to find an attorney. The prosecution is already building its case. Start building your defense now.