Let’s face it; no one deserves to sustain life-threatening bodily injury or have their life ended by another person prematurely. But sometimes, that is the only option available when dealing with a dangerous situation. It may not be your intention to hurt or end another person’s life, but you may be justified if the circumstances warrant such a conclusion.
The general assumption is that homicides (the intentional and illegal killing of one person by another.) are wrong, thus inexcusable. But that doesn’t usually apply to all cases. For instance, like in most other states, some homicides are deemed excusable or justifiable in Florida.
This blog post takes a deeper dive into what such homicides entail, how to navigate them, and why you need a qualified criminal defense attorney on your side.
What Is Justifiable Homicide in Florida?
The penal code under Florida Statute 782.03 puts it clearly and precisely: Homicide is excusable when committed by accident and misfortune in doing any lawful act by lawful means with usual ordinary caution, and without any unlawful intent, or by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation, or upon a sudden combat, without any dangerous weapon being used and not done in a cruel or unusual manner.
Put simply; the statute provides three primary scenarios where a homicide can be justifiable in Florida. These include:
- The defendant killed the victim accidentally during a lawful act without any unlawful intent. Examples may include an accidental shooting while hunting or fishing or even an accidental death caused by a car accident.
- The defendant killed the deceased due to the “heat of passion” provoked by the victim’s actions. This includes situations where the defendant was prompted by words or conduct of the victim, which were reasonably likely to cause a violent response.
- The defendant killed someone who posed an imminent danger to them. For instance, if someone attempted to commit a felony or posed a threat of death to you and you used deadly force against them, such a homicide may be deemed justifiable.
In each scenario above, the law requires that the defendant did not intend to kill the victim. In addition, the defendant must also have acted lawfully in the act which resulted in the victim’s death.
Implications of Justifiable Homicide in Florida
There are several important implications for those charged with a crime involving justifiable or excusable homicide. Here’s a breakdown:
- There is no presumption of guilt. The burden of proof rests squarely on the shoulders of the prosecution. The charges will be dismissed if they fail to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to kill the victim.
- The defendant has the right to present evidence at trial regarding their state of mind. That is, the defendant can argue that they were acting in self-defense, due to fear, or out of necessity. Such defenses would negate the element of intent required under the first two scenarios listed above.
- The defendant does not have to testify at trial. Instead, the jury can infer the defendant’s state of mind from circumstantial evidence presented at trial.
- The defendant is entitled to the same rights afforded to other defendants. They can confront witnesses, subpoena documents, and call expert witnesses.
- The Fifth Amendment’s privilege protects the defendant against self-incrimination. As long as the defendant makes a knowing and intelligent waiver of this right, they cannot be compelled to testify against themselves.
- The defendant is protected from double jeopardy. For example, once a person is acquitted of a charge of manslaughter, the State cannot try them again for the same offense.
- The defendant is protected against excessive bail. While the amount of bail set by the court is usually based on the severity of the crime, the judge may consider the circumstances surrounding the case and the likelihood of flight before setting bail.
- The defendant is protected due process. The principle of due process guarantees the defendant fair notice of what constitutes criminal behavior and allows the defendant to defend against the accusation.
How a Homicide Lawyer Can Help
If you find yourself facing any of these charges, it is imperative that you retain legal counsel immediately. A skilled homicide lawyer can help you navigate the legal system and ensure your constitutional rights are protected throughout the proceedings.
Here is a quick outline of what to expect from a qualified attorney:
- A thorough understanding of the facts of your case. Your attorney should review every aspect of the investigation, including witness statements, forensic reports, and police records. This information will allow your attorney to determine whether there are any weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.
- An analysis of the applicable laws. Your attorney should thoroughly understand the elements of the crimes you were charged with committing. The attorney should also know how to properly use the law to protect your interests during the course of the trial.
- An evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution’s evidence. Your attorney should carefully evaluate the strength of the evidence against you. For example, if the only evidence against you consists of eyewitness testimony, your attorney should explore ways to discredit this testimony.
- An evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of your defense. Your attorney should analyze the strengths and weaknesses of your own case. For example, if you have an alibi, your attorney should investigate the credibility of your potential witnesses. If you have a history of mental illness, your attorney should consider using this as a defense strategy.
- A discussion about possible plea deals. Your attorney should discuss the pros and cons of entering a plea deal with the prosecutor. Depending on the nature of the charges, a plea bargain could save you time in prison or reduce your sentence. However, you should remember that a guilty plea does not mean admitting guilt. You may still need to prove your innocence at trial.
- Thorough representation during trial. If necessary, your attorney should represent you at trial. During the trial, your attorney should ensure all relevant evidence is presented to the jury. Your attorney should also object when appropriate to prevent the introduction of prejudicial evidence.
- Aftercare services. Once your case has been resolved, your attorney should provide you with post-trial services and continuous support. These services include helping you get assimilated back into society, assisting you in finding housing, and providing you with necessary emotional support.
The Importance of Hiring a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney
When facing justifiable homicide charges, hiring a skilled criminal defense attorney is essential for protecting your rights and ensuring that justice is served. At Meltzer & Bell, P.A., we offer free consultations to assess your situation and explain what options may be available to you. We can then help you decide which legal strategies are most likely to succeed. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.