Third Degree Murder Attorneys in Orlando, FL

Third Degree Murder in Florida: An Overview by an Experienced Attorney

Understanding Third Degree Murder in Florida: Elements and Nuances

Florida’s definition and classification of murder charges are unique when compared to some other states, and one of the most misunderstood is Third Degree Murder. This section delves deeper into the intricate details of what constitutes Third Degree Murder under Florida’s laws.

Defining the Crime: Key Elements

According to the Sec. 782.04 of the Florida Statutes, for an act to qualify as Third Degree Murder, several distinct conditions must be met:

  1. Act of Killing: It’s not just about causing harm. The accused must have caused the death of another person.
  2. Lack of Premeditation: This charge differs from First Degree Murder in that there must not have been any preplanned intent or desire to cause the death of any person. This absence of premeditation distinguishes it from more severe murder charges.
  3. The Involvement in Another Felony: A unique aspect of Third Degree Murder in Florida is that the death must occur while the accused was committing or attempting to commit a felony. However, not all felonies apply.
    • Exclusions: The following felonies, if they were the reason for the killing, would not qualify the charge as Third Degree Murder but rather elevate it to First Degree Murder due to their severe nature:
      • Trafficking in a Controlled Substance
      • Arson
      • Sexual Battery
      • Robbery
      • Burglary
      • Kidnapping
      • Escape
      • Aggravated Child Abuse
      • Aggravated Abuse of an Elderly Person or Disabled Adult
      • Aircraft Piracy
      • Unlawful Throwing, Placing, or Discharging of a Destructive Device or Bomb
      • Unlawful distribution of certain controlled substances by an adult, resulting in the death of a user
      • Carjacking
      • Home-invasion robbery
      • Aggravated Stalking
      • Another act of Murder
      • Resisting an Officer with Violence
      • Aggravated Fleeing or Eluding resulting in Serious Bodily Injury or Death
      • Acts of terrorism or furthering an act of terrorism classified as a felony.

The fact that the accused was engaging in any other felony not on the above list at the time of the killing is a crucial determinant for this specific charge.

Accomplice Implications: It’s important to underline that even if an individual didn’t personally carry out the killing, being an accomplice to the act carries the same weight under this law. If an individual is involved in the felony that leads to someone’s death, whether they or their accomplice caused the death, they can be charged as though they were the direct perpetrator.

Third Degree Murder in Florida is a complex charge with specific criteria that need to be met. It’s vital to understand these nuances, especially when facing such an accusation or when navigating the intricacies of Florida’s legal system.

Penalties for Third Degree Murder in Florida

When discussing the legal penalties associated with Third Degree Murder in Florida, it’s crucial to approach the topic with a meticulous understanding of the specifics, as it carries severe consequences. Here is a comprehensive examination of the penalties and their implications:

Penalty Description
Classification Second-degree felony
Prison Time Up to 15 years
Probation Up to 15 years
Fine Up to $10,000
Severity Level 8 (or 74 points) under the Criminal Punishment Code
Additional Points 120 points added because of the victim’s death
Minimum Permissible Sentence 124.5 months (a little over 10 years and 4 months) in prison

Classification of the Crime

Third Degree Murder falls under the category of a second-degree felony in Florida. The distinction between the “third degree” in the charge’s name and its status as a “second-degree felony” often causes confusion. Simply put, while the term refers to the “degree” of the murder charge, its felony classification is separate and dictated by Florida’s legal structure.

Penalties at a Glance

  1. Prison Time: Conviction can result in a prison sentence of up to 15 years. This duration reflects the gravity of the crime and is a maximum potential penalty for those found guilty.
  2. Probation: Alternatively, or in addition to prison time, an individual could face up to 15 years of probation. Probation is a period during which the offender remains under supervised surveillance but outside of prison, ensuring they abide by specific conditions set by the court.
  3. Monetary Fine: Alongside imprisonment or probation, a financial penalty of up to $10,000 can be imposed. This fine serves as both a punitive measure and a deterrent for potential future offenses.
  4. Severity Level: The Criminal Punishment Code assigns severity levels to offenses, indicating their seriousness. For Third Degree Murder, the charge has a severity level of 8, which translates to 74 points.
  5. Additional Points for Victim’s Death: On top of the severity points, an additional 120 points are added due to the loss of life. This amplification emphasizes the tragic nature of the crime.
  6. Minimum Sentence: Accumulating the severity points and additional points results in a minimum permissible sentence of 124.5 months. This amounts to slightly more than 10 years and 4 months. Judges are bound to this minimum when determining the sentence. However, they may consider a lesser sentence if there are extenuating circumstances or reasons that justify a “downward departure” from this threshold.

Considering Special Circumstances

While the minimum sentence for Third Degree Murder is stringent, it’s crucial to note that the judicial system does recognize that each case is unique. Therefore, the possibility of a “downward departure” exists, which allows the judge to impose a sentence below the minimum threshold. Such decisions are rare and would require compelling reasons or special circumstances to justify the deviation.

In sum, while Third Degree Murder in Florida may sound less severe than First or Second Degree Murder, it carries heavy penalties that can significantly impact an individual’s life. Understanding these penalties in-depth is crucial for anyone involved in a legal scenario related to this charge or for those seeking to comprehend the implications of Florida’s legal system better.

How to Fight a Charge of Third-Degree Murder in Florida

When facing a charge of Third Degree Murder in Florida, it’s essential to understand the possible defense strategies available under the state’s legal framework. The right approach can significantly impact the outcome of the case. Here’s an in-depth exploration of potential defenses:

Self-Defense and Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Laws

  • Historical Context: Florida has been at the forefront of bolstering self-defense laws. The state’s “Stand Your Ground” legislation, instituted in 2005, underscores an individual’s right to use force, including deadly force, under specific circumstances.
  • Legal Stipulations: As detailed in Sec. 776.013 of the Florida Statutes, individuals are authorized to employ or even merely threaten to use deadly force if they reasonably discern an immediate risk of significant harm or death. Additionally, this statute applies when one believes such force is essential to avert a forcible felony.
  • Duty of Retreat: A significant shift brought about by the “Stand Your Ground” laws was the elimination of the “duty of retreat.” Previously, an individual under threat was legally obligated to attempt retreat or escape before resorting to self-defense. The current law empowers citizens to defend themselves using the appropriate level of force without the need for retreat, as long as they are in a location where they have a lawful right to be.

Excusable Homicide

  • Legal Definition: Florida law acknowledges that not all instances of homicide are crimes. Certain circumstances warrant the classification of a homicide as “excusable,” recognizing that accidents happen and, at times, penalizing someone for another’s death is unjust.
  • Enumerated Circumstances: Sec. 782.03 of the Florida Statutes delineates three primary scenarios wherein homicide can be deemed excusable:
    • Accidental homicides occurring when the accused was executing a lawful act, demonstrating standard caution, and without any malicious intent.
    • Accidental homicides resulting from heightened emotions, following an unforeseen and legally valid provocation.
    • Homicides resulting from sudden combat, provided the accused neither employed a dangerous weapon nor exhibited cruel or unusual behavior.
  • Civil Liability Note: It’s essential to understand that even if a homicide is determined as excusable in a criminal context, potential civil liabilities, such as wrongful death lawsuits, might still arise.

Exploring Additional Defense Strategies

  • Challenging Illegally Obtained Evidence: One of the foundational principles of the legal system is the protection of an individual’s constitutional rights. If evidence against an accused was procured in violation of these rights, a motion can be filed to exclude such evidence from the case.
  • Lack of Evidence: Demonstrating that the state’s evidence is insufficient or does not support the Third Degree Murder charge can lead to a dismissal or reduction of the charges.
  • Alibi: Presenting a solid alibi can effectively counter the prosecution’s claims. By establishing that you were elsewhere when the crime occurred, it directly challenges the possibility of your involvement.

Facing a Third Degree Murder charge in Florida is daunting. However, with the state’s intricate legal system, there are several avenues to challenge the prosecution’s claims. It’s crucial to be well-versed in these potential defenses and to work closely with legal counsel to navigate the complexities of the case effectively.


1. Are there situations where Third Degree Murder charges can be upgraded or downgraded based on new evidence or circumstances?

Yes. Depending on the discovery of new evidence or a deeper examination of circumstances, Third Degree Murder charges can either be elevated to First or Second Degree Murder or downgraded to manslaughter or another lesser charge.

2. Can a plea bargain reduce a Third Degree Murder charge in Florida?

Yes, plea bargains are negotiations between the defense and prosecution where charges can be reduced in exchange for a guilty plea. This strategy might result in a lesser charge or reduced sentence, depending on the case’s specifics.

While the prosecution represents the state’s interests, a victim’s family can influence decisions, such as pushing for plea deals or sharing a victim impact statement during sentencing.

4. Can expert witnesses play a role in Third Degree Murder defenses?

Absolutely. Expert witnesses, like forensic analysts or psychologists, can provide specialized testimony that might challenge the prosecution’s evidence or offer alternative explanations for the events.

5. How does the presence of multiple defendants affect a Third Degree Murder case?

When multiple individuals are involved, it can complicate matters. Each defendant might have different levels of involvement, and defenses can vary. Joint trials or separate trials can be decided based on strategy and the details of the case.

6. How do mental health or psychological factors come into play when defending against a Third Degree Murder charge?

If a defendant was suffering from a significant mental health issue at the time of the crime, it might be possible to use an insanity defense or argue diminished capacity. Such defenses would require expert testimonies and thorough evaluations.

7. Are there specific programs or resources available for individuals falsely accused of Third Degree Murder in Florida?

There are several innocence projects and legal aid organizations in Florida that work to exonerate those wrongfully convicted. They provide resources and legal support for those who claim innocence.

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