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First Degree Murder

The elements of the crime of First Degree Murder are found in § 782.04(1)(a), of the Florida Statues Under Florida law, there are two ways a person can be charged with First Degree Murder. One is known as First Degree Premeditated Murder and the other is known as First Degree Felony Murder.

Both of these versions of first-degree murder are punishable as a capital offense in Florida. A conviction comes with one of two possible sentences:

  • Death; or
  • Life without the possibility of parole.

The prosecutor might decide to waive the death penalty as a sentencing option. If such a waiver occurs, then the sentence after a conviction would be life in prison without the possibility of parole. If the state does not waive the imposition of the death penalty, then the court will conduct a separate sentencing hearing (called the “penalty phase”) if a conviction for first-degree murder occurs at trial.

Attorneys for First Degree Murder in Palm Beach County, FL

The criminal defense attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A. fight serious criminal charges throughout Palm Beach County and the surrounding areas in South Florida. The attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A. also represent clients throughout Fort Lauderdale in Broward County and Miami in Miami-Dade County, FL.

Contact us to find out more about the charges, elements of the offense, and the best defenses that can apply in these cases. We represent clients on a wide range of homicide cases in South Florida including first-degree murder, second-degree murder and various forms of manslaughter.

Call (561) 557-8686.


Elements of Premeditated Murder in Florida

To prove the crime of First Degree Premeditated Murder, the State must prove the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. the victim is dead:
  2. the death was caused by the criminal act of the defendant; 
  3. there was a premeditated killing of the victim. 

Under the statute for first-degree murder in Florida, the term “act” is defined to include “a series of related actions arising from and performed pursuant to a single design or purpose.”

The term “killing with premeditation” means “killing after consciously deciding to do so.” In other words, the decision must be present in the person’s mind at the time of the killing. Florida law does not fix the exact period of time that must pass between the formation of the premeditated intent to kill and the killing.

The period of time must be long enough to allow reflection by the defendant.  The premeditated intent to kill must be formed before the killing. The question of premeditation is a question of fact to be determined by the jury when considering the evidence, the circumstances of the killing, and the conduct of the accused.


Heat of Passion on Legally Adequate Provocation

In many of these cases, the defendant will show evidence that he or she acted in the heat of passion on legally adequate provocation.

That premeditated design to kill might not be present when the defendant acted in the heat of passion based on adequate provocation. 

One way to find that the defendant did not act with a premeditated design to kill is to show that the defendant acted in the heat of passion based on adequate provocation. To be considered “adequate provocation, an act must have occurred under the following circumstances:

  • there must have been a sudden event that would have suspended the exercise of judgment in an ordinary reasonable person; and
  • a reasonable person would have lost normal self-control and would have been driven by a blind and unreasoning fury; and
  • there was not a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable person to cool off; and
  • a reasonable person would not have cooled off before committing the act that caused death; and
  • the defendant was, in fact, so provoked and did not cool off before the defendant committed the act that caused the death of the victim. 

If the jury has a reasonable doubt about whether the defendant acted with a premeditated design to kill because the defendant acted in the heat of passion based on adequate provocation, then the jury is instructed that it should find the defendant NOT guilty of First Degree Premeditated Murder.


Lesser Charges in a Murder Case

If the jury finds the defendant not guilty of first-degree premeditated murder, the jury might still consider entering a guilty verdict on lesser charges including:

  • Second degree (depraved mind) murder under 782.04(2);
  • Second degree (felony) murder under 782.04(3);
  • Third degree (felony) murder under 782.04(4)
  • Vehicular homicide under 782.071;
  • Manslaughter under 782.07;
  • Aggravated manslaughter (child) under 782.07(3);
  • Aggravated manslaughter (elderly person/disabled adult) under 782.07(2);
  • Aggravated manslaughter (officer/firefighter/EMT/paramedic) under 782.07(4);
  • Attempted premeditated murder under 782.04(1);
  • Attempted felony murder under 782.051(1);
  • Attempted felony murder under 782.051(2);
  • Attempted felony murder under 782.051(3); and
  • Attempted second degree murder under 782.04(2) & 777.04; and
  • Attempted manslaughter by act under 782.07 & 777.04.

The attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A. in West Palm Beach are experienced in fighting charges in homicide cases and attempted homicide cases.


This article was last updated on Friday, March 23, 2018.

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