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What Are The Degrees of Murder in Florida?

By Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

June 2, 2022

Florida is one of a few states that recognizes three different degrees of murder. Let’s discuss what each type is and potential defenses for murder charges.

First-Degree Murder Charge

First-degree murder is the most serious of the three types of murder charges. In order for a murder to have occurred in the first degree, it must have been intentional and premeditated. This means that there is evidence that the defendant planned to commit the murder prior to act taking place.

Signs that murder was premeditated include:

  • An agreement with another individual to commit the murder
  • Purchasing weapons shortly before the murder
  • Personal journals detailing the desire to kill
  • Witnesses overhearing the defendant’s plan or threats to kill

Premeditation may also occur just minutes before the murder. For example, if the defendant chooses to pick up a weapon and use it against the victim. This shows they actively planned to cause the victim harm by preparing to use a weapon against them.

First-degree murder is punishable by life imprisonment or death. Typically, the death sentence is reserved for the most heinous crimes that involve extreme circumstances. These may be murders involving torture, children, law enforcement, or other extreme factors.

Second-Degree Murder Charge

Second-degree murder is almost the same as first-degree murder except for one key distinction: the premeditation component. Second-degree murder occurs when an individual intentionally kills another individual but does not plan to do so ahead of time. Many people consider second-degree murder to be a crime of passion. This means that the offender was provoked by an incident that caused them to feel strong negative emotions, and they acted upon those emotions by committing murder.

An individual may also be charged with second-degree murder if they are involved in accomplice felony murder. This occurs when an individual dies during the commission of a separate felony offense. If the main perpetrator of the initial felony also committed the murder, they will be charged with first-degree murder. If the accomplice for the initial felony committed the murder, the will be charged with second-degree murder. An example of this would be if an individual is an accomplice in a home invasion and ends up killing a member of the household. The accomplice will face second-degree murder charges.

Second-degree murder in Florida is punishable by 15 years to life imprisonment.

Third-Degree Murder Charge

Only Florida, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota recognize third-degree murder. Third-degree murder occurs when an individual dies during the commission of a nonviolent felony. Additionally, Florida law does not require third-degree murder to be intentional. An individual’s accidental death during the commission of a nonviolent felony is enough to warrant the murder charge.

Third-degree murder is punishable by:

  • Up to 15 years in prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

Defense Strategies for Murder Charges

Murder cases are highly complex, and there are typically numerous unique factors and pieces of evidence that must be considered when determining the best possible defense strategy.


Self-defense is one of the most common defense strategies used for violent crimes. However, it is surprisingly difficult to prove.

Self-defense is applicable if:

  • The defendant had valid reason to believe that their life was in danger
  • The defendant acted with reasonable force to stop the threat of danger
  • The defendant did not start the altercation that led to the murder

However, all of these factors are based on discretion, witness accounts, and other evidence. While the defendant may have felt they were acting reasonably to protect themselves, the prosecutors, jury, and judge may not.


If you have heard of the insanity defense, you have also likely heard about how difficult it is to use. In fact, less than 50 cases each year successfully use this defense. The insanity defense admits that the defendant did commit the murder, but they did not have the mental capacity to understand their actions at the time. Therefore, they cannot be guilty because they were not fully capable of grasping the actions and consequences of murder.

Accidental Murder

The defense strategy may choose to prove that the element of intent was not present during the murder, as it was accidental. For example, someone accidentally pulls the trigger on a gun and the bullet fatally wounds someone.

Moral Duty

One may argue that they needed to commit murder to protect the general public. For example, police officers who needed to stop a suspect from harming another individual. In these cases, the murder could be justified and considered necessary for the defense of others.

Are Murder Rates Really Increasing?

Many news outlets are reporting on increased instances of violent crimes and murder. Since 2019, the murder rate has risen in America. From 2019 to 2020, murders increased over 30%. From 2020 to 2021, it increased again but at a slower pace. Many people believe that this increase is a result of stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, as numerous Americans have suffered from financial issues, intense stress, among other negative and overwhelming effects.

Florida Murder Defense Attorneys

If you or your loved one has recently been arrested for murder, it is imperative that you contact a defense attorney as soon as possible. Our team at Hager & Schwartz, P.A. does not shy away from these challenging cases. We have defended numerous clients facing serious charges for violent crimes and murder. Discuss your situation with our team today; click here to request a consultation or give us a call directly at (954) 840-8713.