What are the Elements of First-Degree Murder?

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What are the Elements of First-Degree Murder?

Are you or a loved one facing charges for first-degree murder? What is first-degree murder, and what are its elements? These might be some of the questions that you ask. 

Whenever someone unlawfully kills another person, there are several categories and degrees for this crime. As a result, there are also different penalties depending on the degree and conviction

The state of Florida has three distinct degrees of murder. First-degree is intentional and deliberate, second-degree is where evidence for premeditation is lacking, and third-degree is when the murder was unintentional. 

These degrees are dependent on the circumstances of the specific crime. They will have a large effect on how the court will handle the case and sentencing. Let’s take a closer look at the three essential elements of first-degree murder.

Intent in First-Degree Murder

The intent of the murderer requires careful consideration when determining the degree of the charges. To be categorized as first-degree murder, the intent of the murderer has to be proven to be specific to end human life. 

This intent to kill does not necessarily have to link to a specific person. It could be that the killer had the intention of killing someone, but due to various circumstances, they end up killing the wrong person or a random person. In this case, it would still constitute first-degree murder.

In many states, killing or murder shows that the killer has no regard for human life. Demonstrating this depraved indifference to human life is enough to face charges of first-degree murder in some states.

Deliberation and Premeditation

Each case is different, and an attorney will need to handle it as such. Another required first-degree murder element must be deliberation and premeditation. What this means is that the murderer thought about and planned to kill someone. 

This contemplation and planning don’t need to have been at length or well in advance. If the court can prove that the perpetrator had enough time to think about the reason for wanting to kill, and they had enough time to second guess or doubt this reason but still chose to act, they can be charged with first-degree murder. 

The decision to kill can happen quickly. To be considered premeditated and deliberate, it must have occurred before the physical act of killing. In essence, premeditation means that your actions were planned out and thought through in advance; it was a deliberate and intentional act to end another person’s life. 

Malice Aforethought in First-Degree Murder Cases

In many states, malice or “malice aforethought” has to be proven to explain why the perpetrators of first-degree murder acted as they did. States tend to treat the concept of “malice” differently. Generally, see it as an evil mentality or temperament or as having a purpose for killing and showing indifference to human lives. 

One state could see malice as being the same as premeditated murder or extreme indifference to human life. While in another state, the law makes a distinction between showing malice and premeditation and deliberation of first-degree murder. 

Under the law, murder is one of the most severe crimes. Florida’s first-degree murder is punishable with the finite penalty—the death penalty. Work with an experienced criminal defense attorney like Thomas C. Grajek to help you or someone you love.

Types of First Degree Murders

There are specific types of killings that state laws often classify as first degree, regardless of the typical elements of first-degree murder like deliberation, intent, and premeditation. Some types of first-degree murder relate directly to causing harm to another person. Some of these include: 

  • Kidnapping
  • Sexual battery
  • Murder of another human being
  • Aggravated child abuse
  • Escape
  • Aggravated stalking
  • Unlawful placement, discharge, or throwing of a bomb or other destructive device
  • Aggravated abuse of a disabled adult or a senior citizen

Other types of first-degree murders relate to other crimes, like:

  • Home-invasion robbery
  • Robbery
  • Aggravated fleeing or eluding with serious bodily injury or death
  • Trafficking offense prohibited by s.893.135(1)
  • Aircraft piracy
  • A felony crime that is considered a terrorist act or that advances an act of terrorism
  • Carjacking
  • Burglary
  • Unlawful distribution of drugs
  • Arson
  • Resisting an officer with violence to his or her person

In addition to the types of first-degree murder, some states categorize specific methods of killings as the murder of the first degree. These methods are instances where the killer ambushed the victim, “laid in wait,” intentionally poisoned,  imprisoned, or tortured someone that resulted in death.

Seek Legal Help for First-Degree Murder Case

The criminal justice system considers first-degree murder as one of the most severe crimes, and it has the harshest penalties. 

Don’t take any accusations of murder lightly. It’s essential to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. They will be able to develop your legal strategy and explain your rights and protections.

“If you ever come across a body, never move or alter the victim’s position or remove anything from the body. Wait for the medical examiner or the lead investigator to check the crime scene.”

— Thomas C. Grajek

FAQs about First-Degree Murder Cases in Florida

1. What is the most important evidence found at a crime scene?

The most crucial evidence that investigators can find at a crime scene is physical evidence. Evidence collected and investigated are fingerprints, footprints, blood, hair, fibers, soil, digital records, tools and tool marks, and any firearm or weapon evidence. It is vitally important for all physical evidence to remain uncontaminated, be on record, and be analyzed.

2. How long does it take for a felony case to go to trial in Florida?

Usually, the trial for felony cases in Florida will occur within 175 days from the date of your arrest. The following stages will occur: first appearance, arraignment, pre-trial proceedings, plea or trial, pre-sentence investigation, and sentencing. Talk to your attorney in advance about each of these stages.

3. What are the defenses for first-degree murder in Florida?

There are several defenses that a criminal defense attorney could use. These include:

  • Failure to prove the elements of first-degree murder. These elements being the killing of a person, intent, deliberation, and premeditation. A defendant can argue that one or more elements are missing.
  • Accidental killing where the homicide takes place during or as a result of another crime, or only by accident.
  • Justification argues that the person was justified in their actions; therefore, the case should not be considered first-degree murder. Defendants could claim self-defense, defense of others, or exercise of duty.
  • Insanity as a defense—states tend to treat this differently and have specific tests they apply. Mostly, cases where the perpetrator was unable to realize their wrongful act have disorders affecting impulse control or lack the cognitive abilities to understand the crime they committed.

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