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What's the Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter?

Murder and manslaughter are two separate offenses. Although both result in the death of another, several factors distinguish them, including the planning behind the act and the alleged offender's state of mind when committing the offense. The totality of the circumstances must be considered to determine whether someone is guilty of murder or manslaughter. In some cases, it may be possible that another person lost their life due to the conduct of another, yet they are guilty of neither murder nor manslaughter because their actions were excusable or justified.

Florida's Murder Law

Florida has several laws concerning murder, distinguished by how or why the offense was committed. For brevity's sake, we discuss only first-degree and second-degree murder.

As mentioned before, someone may be accused and convicted of murder if they planned out the offense. Under Florida law, when the killing of another was premeditated, it is considered first-degree murder (Florida Statutes § 782.04(1)(a)).

To obtain a guilty conviction for first-degree murder, the State must prove that the defendant:

  • Made a conscious decision to kill someone,
  • Had time to reflect on their planned conduct before acting, and
  • Intended to kill the other person before carrying out the offense

However, premeditation and an intent to kill are not always elements of murder. Yet, absent these, the offense does not immediately fall into the definition of manslaughter (although it could). Florida's second-degree murder law (Florida Statutes § 782.04(2)) states that a person could be charged with murder if they engaged in conduct a reasonable person would have known could cause someone's death and the act was indicative of a depraved mind. An act is considered imminently dangerous and evincing of a depraved mind if the individual had ill will, hatred, or spite when engaging in it.

The State can obtain a second-degree murder conviction even if it does not prove that the defendant planned the attack or intended to kill another person.

Florida's Manslaughter Law

Manslaughter is a lesser offense than first- or second-degree murder. It is committed when someone intentionally commits an act that leads to someone else's death or kills another through culpable negligence (Florida Statutes § 782.07(1)).

To act with culpable negligence means that the individual showed a flagrant disregard for the lives and safety of others. They knew or should have known that what they were doing could cause serious bodily injury or death but engaged in the conduct regardless.

As with second-degree murder, for a person to be found guilty of manslaughter, the State does not have to prove that the defendant intended to cause someone else's death, only that they intended to carry out the act that led to such a result.

Examples of First-Degree Murder, Second-Degree Murder, and Manslaughter

Below are real-world examples of when criminal charges were brought for first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and manslaughter, illustrating the difference between the offenses.

First-Degree Murder Example

A man got into an argument with one of his coworkers while at a job site. The man fled the scene and bought a bat. A few hours later, he showed up at a rental home shared by the coworker and several others, using the bat and a knife to take the lives of the colleague he argued with earlier and two others.

The man was charged with first-degree murder. Read more about the case here.

Second-Degree Murder Example

A man was trying to pull into a parking space where a group of people was standing. The driver and one of the individuals in the spot got into an argument. The individual fatally shot the driver and was charged with second-degree murder. Read the full story here.

Manslaughter Example

A few friends were hanging out in a hotel room. One of the friends was playing with a loaded firearm and pointing it at the others. The gun was accidentally discharged, and one of the friends was killed. The individual was charged with negligence manslaughter. Learn more about the story here.

Excusable and Justifiable Homicide

Not all incidents involving one person killing another result in a murder or manslaughter charge or conviction. If the killing were considered justifiable or excusable, it may be lawful.

In Florida, a killing is justifiable when it is committed to stop someone trying to commit a murder or felony upon the individual.

A killing is excusable when it is committed by accident or misfortune under the following circumstances:

  • The individual was engaged in a lawful act and exercising reasonable caution
  • The individual acted under the heat of passion after being suddenly provoked
  • The individual was engaged in sudden combat, did not use a dangerous weapon, and was not acting cruelly

Depending on the circumstances, if a person is accused of murder or manslaughter, the argument may be raised that it was either excusable or justified. Building a compelling defense to such serious charges takes a sound understanding of the law and skills gained through years of experience and practice.

At Hager & Schwartz, P.A., our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers are former prosecutors who have handled complex cases. We know what it takes to protect the rights and futures of the accused and are ready to invest the time and resources into fighting serious charges.

If you or a loved one is facing criminal accusations, contact us at (954) 840-8713 for the legal counsel you need.