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First Degree Murder


Central Florida Criminal Defense.  Criminal defense in Orlando, and surrounding areas. A Central Florida 1st Degree Murder charge is the most serious criminal charge that any person could face throughout the State.  If a person was convicted at a jury trial of First Degree Murder in Florida, they would face in a mandatory minimum sentence of LIFE IN PRISON.  However, if the State of Florida were able to show enough aggravating factors per Florida Statute, a Central Florida citizen could be sentenced to death by lethal injection.  Here is the list of factors that Florida Courts consider when weighing the decision of whether or not to impose the death penalty to a person convicted of First Degree Murder:


(1)The murder was especially heinous, atrocious, cruel, or depraved (or involved torture)
(2) The capital offense was committed during the commission of, attempt of, or escape from a specified felony (such as robbery, kidnapping, rape, sodomy, arson, oral copulation, train wrecking, carjacking, criminal gang activity, drug dealing, or aircraft piracy)
(3) The defendant knowingly created a grave risk of death for one or more persons in addition to the victim of the offense
(4) The defendant committed the murder after substantial planning and premeditation
(5) The murder was committed for pecuniary gain or pursuant to an agreement that the defendant would receive something of value
(6) The murder was committed to avoid or prevent arrest, to effect an escape, or to conceal the commission of a crime
(7) The capital offense was committed to interfere with the lawful exercise of any government function or the enforcement of the laws
(8) The defendant has been convicted of, or committed, a prior murder, a felony involving violence, or other serious felony
(9) The capital offense was committed by a person who is incarcerated, has escaped, is on probation, is in jail, or is under a sentence of imprisonment
(10)The defendant was a criminal street gang member
(11)The victim of the capital felony was a person less than 12 years of age
(12)The victim of the capital felony was particularly vulnerable due to disability, or because the defendant stood in a position of familial or custodial authority over the victim
(13) The victim was an elected or appointed official or former official of the federal government, or local or state government, and the killing intentionally prevented the victim’s official duties
(14)The defendant engaged in drug trafficking
(15)The defendant raped a child
(16)The capital felony was a homicide and was committed in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification
(17)The capital felony was committed by a person designated as a sexual predator or a person previously designated as a sexual predator who had the sexual predator designation removed


If the State of Florida chooses not to, or is unable to pursue the death penalty, the convicted person is still facing the mandatory minimum sentence of Life in Prison.  However, this does not mean that all hope is lost.  The State of Florida does frequently have deficiencies in the strength of their first degree murder charge.  Central Florida citizens accused of First Degree Murder have the opportunity to present pre-trial motions to suppress unlawfully obtained evidence, and a successful motion will reduce the amount of evidence that the State of Florida has to use against this person at trial.  The prosecution may find that the victim of this homicide was hardly an innocent bystander, and may have been involved in illegal activities thus reducing jury appeal.  Additionally, the defense may be able to present evidence at a Stand Your Ground Hearing, that the defendant was lawfully acting in self-defense from imminent serious bodily harm or death, thereby excusing the homicide as non-criminal. 


Further, the viability of the first degree murder charge may hinge on the local area where the homicide occurred.  For example, a murder in Orlando may involve the Orlando Police Department, and their excellent Crime Scene Investigation team, and their law enforcement Detectives.  A First Degree Murder in Apopka, may involve the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Apopka police department, and the investigation may not be quite as thorough and thus, the evidence may be weaker. 


Potential Defenses to First Degree Murder


Identity: Contrary to popular belief, DNA, blood, fingerprints, video and photos do not exist in every criminal case, not even a murder case.  Additionally, a video came sometimes be more damaging to the prosecution’s case then it Is helpful.  Often the video quality of home security cameras are pixelated and grainy, and it is not possible to obtain a certain identification.  Sometimes, the wearing of a hat and/or sunglasses provides enough coverage to make the identification very difficult to make on camera and sometimes, there is no physical or video/photo evidence of the perpetrator of the homicide. 


Criminal cases are still proven every day by way of testimonial evidence of identification.  Frequently, the identification made at the time by the witness was made based off a fleeting glance or in dim/dark lighting.  These are the cases where the identification should be subject to great scrutiny.  The public is becoming more and more aware of the deficiencies that human beings lack when it comes to making personal identifications of people that they don’t know personally.  Issues of identification are one of the most common criminal defenses in Central Florida to the charge of First Degree Murder. 


Present but not Involved: Another common defense, nicknamed the “Shaggy Defense” based on the song “It Wasn’t Me”.  This legal defense strikes a terrible fear into the hearts of jurors, as it begs the question, “Can a person be convicted of First Degree Murder, just because they were with someone at the time the murder happened, even if they did not aid the homicide in any other way”.  Legally, the answer is no, however, sometimes the facts imply some degree of involvement in the murder by some third party, even though the person had no actual involvement in the crime.  A hypothetical of this scenario is:


Person A is walking down the street of Daytona Beach in Volusia County with person B, person B believes that they are walking to the house of V (victim) to ask him if he wants to play basketball, but person A intends of shooting V with the gun that is hidden in his pants.  After the shooting, person A throws the firearm towards person B who catches it, placing fingerprints on the firearm, person V dies of his wounds.  Police obtain the firearm which registers as recently within 12 hours out of Longwood, in Seminole County Florida.  Person B pleads his case to the police, but there are no witnesses and the only physical evidence in the case are the fingerprints on the gun of person B. 


Under these particularly awful set of circumstances the very best legal defense may very well be… the truth.  Person B should blame the true killer with the Daytona Beach murder crime.  This will now become a test of who is to be believed or not, and will almost certainly be a question for the jury as the ultimate trier of facts in this case.


Self-Defense: This legal defense seems to be everyone’s favorite legal defense and the topic of spirited debate across the country.  A person’s legal right to self-defense is greater in Florida than it is in some other States.  In Florida, a person’s right to confront force with force, and even deadly force when in a well-founded fear of serious bodily harm or death.  This is called the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law.  A famous Central Florida First Degree murder case involving this legal issue was the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, in Seminole County, Florida by Community Watch Person George Zimmerman.  Ultimately, Mr. Zimmerman who was charged with First Degree Murder was acquitted of all charges based on the classic version of self-defense (Zimmerman did not win in regards to the Stand Your Ground Law).  As to whether the defendant acted in self-defense at trial, the burden is on the State of Florida to show beyond and to the exclusion of a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense. 


Stipulation to a Lesser Charge or to elements of the offense:  In some Central Florida cases, the evidence of the guilt of the defendant may be particularly overwhelming, but the State may still have to fight hard to obtain their First Degree Murder Conviction.  This may occur through a well-presented legal defense, which yes admits to some elements of the offense or even to a lesser crime.  A good example of this may occur when a person is killed after the defendant catches the victim in bed with his/her wife or husband.  In an instant the defendant grabs a knife from around his waist and slashes the throat of the victim immediately.  The State of Florida may persue the death penalty because of an enumerated aggravating factor, but the defense may  be successful in arguing that the facts presented are not that which fall into the category of First Degree Murder but are instead more appropriate for a conviction of second degree murder, thus sparing the defendant of the death penalty. 


If you or anyone that you know in Central Florida is facing a first degree murder charge, it is imperative that they obtain legal representation immediately.  Their very life could be in jeopardy.  As you have read above, there are  great deal of potential legal defenses that an individual may have to their first degree murder charge, but without the help of an experienced Central Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer, they will not be able to take advantage of their legal rights.  Contact ByrdLaw, P.A. today for your free initial consultation in regards to your Central Florida First Degree Murder charge, providing aggressive criminal defense representation to those accused of murder in Orlando, Orange County, Longwood, Altamonte Springs, Seminole County, Daytona Beach, Deltona, Volusia County, Osceola County, Brevard County, Cocoa Beach, and Titusville.


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