In Florida, First-Degree Murder is defined as an unlawful killing that is both willful and premeditated, meaning that it was committed after planning or “lying in wait” for the victim. The state of Florida divides murders into three different degrees.
First degree murder, also called “capital murder”, represents the worst form of homicide crime. It generally includes murders committed by people who willfully take a life after having a chance to think about what they are doing. The killing of law enforcement officers and murders committed in the course of violent crimes would also qualify as first degree.
Florida adheres to a legal concept known as the “felony murder rule,” under which if a person commits certain violent felonies — usually arson, burglary, kidnapping, rape and robbery, which result in an unintentional death, the state can charge them with felony murder.
Florida laws require that first degree murder convictions include four basic elements: intent, deliberation, premeditation, and “malice aforethought”.
First degree murderers must have the specific intent to end a human life. This intent does not necessarily have to have been focused initially on the actual victim. Under Florida laws, killing through action showing a depraved indifference to human life can qualify as murder in the first degree as well.
The deliberation and premeditation acted on by a killer required for first degree murder can only be determined on a case by case basis. Deliberation and premeditation must occur before, and not at the same time as, the act of killing.
For first degree murder, the highest level murder offense, convictions draw the harshest sentences of any crime. In Florida, all first degree murder convictions bring either the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. An aggravated first degree murder conviction draws life in prison without parole if the prosecution fails to convince the court or does not seek to impose the death penalty.
Defenses to the charge take many forms, from mistaken identity to self-defense to not guilty by reason of insanity. Which defenses a criminal defendant may have depends on the particular facts of the case in question. For guidance, defendants should consult with André A. Rouviere for an attorney well versed in Florida state’s criminal laws.