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First Degree Murder in Florida


A first-degree murder case typically draws the harshest penalties of any crime. As with any case, the evidence and circumstances of the crime can determine the sentence. Florida has sentences outlined in their state statutes, although courts still have some leeway to decide how to sentence first-degree murder cases based on the facts of the case. 

If you are facing first-degree murder charges, you or a loved one needs to call a criminal defense lawyer immediately for critical legal advice. 

Read on to learn more about first-degree murder sentencing and penalties.

What is Murder?

The terms murder and homicide refer to different actions. Homicide is when one person kills another person, but it may or may not be a crime. 

Murder is also different from manslaughter, with the main difference being intent. Intention, in this case, means intending to cause serious bodily harm or death or knowingly committing a felony that resulted in death. 

In Orlando, FL, murder is broken up into first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and third-degree murder. First-degree murder is the most serious, then second-degree and third-degree. 

What is First Degree Murder?

According to Florida Statute 782.04(1)(a), first-degree murder occurs when someone commits a premeditated murder or felony murder upon another human being. 

You can be found guilty of first-degree murder in three ways.

Premeditated Murder

Florida statutes maintain that premeditated murder occurs when someone kills someone else pursuant to a pre-planned scheme. This means that the murder was planned and thought about in advance, making it a deliberate and intentional act. 

For example, if a person decides they want to kill someone else and purchases a murder weapon before killing said person, this would be a deliberate, planned-out action under Florida law. 

Felony Murder

Under Florida Statute 782.04(1)(a)(2), felony murder happens when the defendant kills another person while in the process of committing, or attempting to commit, a felony criminal offense. It does not matter if the murder was premeditated or not. Felony criminal offenses include the following:

  • Aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult
  • Aggravated stalking
  • Aggravated child abuse
  • Aggravated fleeing with serious bodily injury or death
  • Aircraft piracy
  • Escape
  • Arson
  • Carjacking
  • Sexual battery
  • Resisting law enforcement with violence
  • Burglary
  • Murder
  • Distribution or trafficking of Controlled Substances
  • Terrorism
  • Home-invasion robbery
  • Kidnapping
  • Robbery
  • Unlawful throwing, placing or discharging of a destructive device or bomb

If a person is killed during a specific felony act, then the person convicted will be charged with first-degree murder. For example, in Florida, if a person dies accidentally during a kidnapping, the defendant would face first-degree homicide charges regardless of the death being unintentional. 

Unlawful Distribution of Drugs

According to subsection three of Florida statutes, a person can be charged with first-degree murder if an unlawful death results from the unlawful distribution of any controlled substance, including cocaine, opium, any synthetic or natural salt, methadone, and more.

For example, in Florida, a person can be charged if they purchase heroin, allow their friend to inject the heroin, and the friend dies.  

Penalties for First Degree Murder in Florida

Potential first-degree murder convictions are punishable either by life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty. 

Florida courts have the option to waive the death penalty as a penalty option and may elect to seek life in prison without the possibility of parole instead. 

The Death Penalty

Florida was the first state to reintroduce the death penalty after the case of Furman v. Georgia. The death penalty is the most serious penalty for a murder charge, and you need a qualified attorney to represent you. 

Life in Prison Without the Possibility of Parole

Some states do not enforce the death penalty and instead convict a first-degree murder charge with life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

A first-degree murder conviction could result in life in prison if aggravating factors were involved. 

Other Sentences

If there are no aggravating factors in the first-degree murder charge, then other sentences can be imposed, including life in prison with the possibility of parole. Typically these sentences can range in years depending on the case. 

Proceedings for the Penalty Phase

Suppose the State of Florida does not waive the death penalty and the defendant is convicted. In that case, the court will impose separate sentencing proceedings to determine if the defendant should face life imprisonment or be sentenced to death. This is known as the Penalty Phase. 

Aggravating Factors

In Florida, there are specific factors that can determine if one is found guilty of first-degree murder and therefore subject to the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Under 2021 Florida statutes, there are many aggravating factors, including:

  • The defendant previously committed another felony and is under felony probation
  • The defendant has previous murder convictions
  • The defendant knowingly decided to act dangerously, creating a risk of death
  • The murder occurred during an act or as an accomplice of a violent crime such as  arson, aggravated child abuse, sexual battery, abuse of an elderly or disabled person, aircraft piracy, kidnapping, and more
  • The victim was a police officer currently on duty
  • The victim was a prosecutor, judge, witness, elected public official, or juror in an attempt to hinder lawful exercise
  • The murder involved torture or was especially cruel
  • The defendant intentionally ambushed the victim
  • The murder involved poisoning
  • The homicide involved bombs or any explosive materials
  • The defendant is a proven active gang member, and the killing was part of gang activity
  • The victim was under 12 years of age
  • The defendant was a previously convicted sexual predator

Defenses for First Degree Murder

Along with pretrial defenses and trial defenses that come with homicide charges, the defenses for first-degree murder include justifiable homicide, excusable homicide, or self-defense. 

Excusable Homicide

There is such a thing as a lawful homicide that falls under the following scenarios:

  • The homicide was committed accidentally and without unlawful intent
  • The homicide was committed in the heat of passion, suddenly and without provocation
  • The homicide was committed due to sudden combat and was not in any way done in a cruel or unusual manner

Justifiable Homicide

A murder could be considered justifiable homicide if it was done in an attempt to resist someone killing you or committing a felony against you. 


Florida courts may also call this justified use of deadly force. Self-defense occurs when you are defending yourself against an aggressor. 

Being charged with killing another human being can be an incredibly complex and challenging case. You need an accomplished defense lawyer to help establish a defense for you. It can take a year or longer to perform an intensive investigation, litigation, and more legal work. 

Common murder case defenses include self-defense or justifiable use of deadly force and excusable homicide. Another defense is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt under Florida law that the State has charged the wrong person with grievous harm against another human being. It is not unusual for police officers to base their arrest on unreliable witnesses, non-credible witness identifications, and circumstantial evidence. 

If you have been charged with first-degree murder, you must fight back to ensure that your freedom, liberty, and reputation are cleared. Living with a felony charge or being convicted can have a serious impact on your life. 

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in Orlando, Florida

If you have been arrested or wrongly accused of the crime of first-degree or second-degree murder in Orlando, Florida, please contact criminal defense law firm Parikh Law, P.A, as soon as possible. 

Our experienced murder attorney has many years of training and professional experience in helping those facing capital felony and any serious crimes, including murder. We fight hard to seek justice against the criminal justice system. 

We treat our clients with dignity, compassion, and respect and go above and beyond to provide an excellent criminal defense under Florida law. 

Your consultation with us is free and confidential. Call us immediately if you have been accused of unlawful killing of a human so we can go over your case details together.