Most people accused of a criminal offense in Florida are tried under state jurisdiction in a state court by District Attorney prosecutors.
This is the system as outlined in the U.S. Constitution – and the crime of murder is no exception.
Murder is usually tried under Florida state law but, in certain circumstances, a federal agency (the FBI) may investigate the crime.
If it proceeds to trial, the case will be heard in a federal court and prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office representing the federal government.
So, when is murder a state crime – and when is it a federal crime?
Murder as a Florida state crime
The crime of murder is generally prosecuted in Florida as a state crime.
If the District Attorney decides to prosecute, a sentence of life imprisonment or even the death penalty is the worst-case scenario in Florida.
Nobody needs reminding that murder is an extremely charge but your criminal defense lawyer may be able to offer one of several viable defenses for your actions, such as:
- Accidental killing, or
Types of murder offenses in Florida
Unlike most states, which have two classifications of murder, Florida has three. These are summarized below.
First-degree murder involves an intentional act that is willful and premeditated. It is a felony crime in Florida. Anyone involved in a dangerous crime where a death results can also be charged with first-degree murder.
Second-degree murder lacks the element of pre-meditation present in first-degree murder. Instead, it needs to be proven that the defendant acted without regard for human life and with a “depraved mind” or with enmity towards the victim.
Third-degree murder charges may be filed against an individual who unintentionally kills another person while committing, or attempting to commit, a non-violent felony.
This often applies to so-called “crimes of passion” where a heated argument has fatal consequences. Negligence or recklessness is often involved rather than premeditation or intent and mental issues may also be a factor.
When does murder become a federal crime?
Each of the classifications of murder described above can be charged as state crimes in Florida.
However, there are multiple instances when the crime is likely to prompt an investigation by the FBI and a potential trial in a federal court.
These are summarized below:
- Murder of an elected/appointed federal official or a family member. The murder of any of the following individuals will be prosecuted as federal murder:
- The President
- Vice President
- Cabinet officer
- Supreme Court Justice
- Federal Judge
- Law enforcement official
If the individual died as a result of a kidnapping, this would also be treated as federal murder, as would the murder of a member of an official’s immediate family.
- Drug-related murders. The U.S. government has taken a tough stance on drug use, possession and trafficking. Under these strict laws, any crime that involves drugs and results in murder can be prosecuted as a federal murder case.
- Murder during a bank robbery. Bank robbery is a federal crime in itself so killing staff, security guards, customers, hostages or other individuals when trying to escape from law enforcement during a bank robbery is likely to be prosecuted as federal murder.
- Murder designed to influence the outcome of a court case. The murder of a jury member, court officer, witness, police informant or any other person with a major role to play in a court case can also be prosecuted as federal murder if it can be shown that the murder was carried out to influence the outcome of a court case. It is also a federal crime to murder an individual in retaliation for testimony provided at trial.
- Murder related to the rape, molestation or sexual exploitation of a child. When a sex crime is committed against a child and the death of the victim occurs because of it, the crime can be prosecuted at the federal level. If the murder is related to the transportation of illegal contraband such as child pornography, it may also be charged as a federal crime.
- Murder for hire. In murder-for-hire cases where a person must travel over state lines (including the victim), or communicate using federal property (phone lines, U.S. postal service, the Internet, etc.) it can be prosecuted under federal law. Remember, Congress has legal jurisdiction over interstate commerce, which includes communication lines as well as roads.
- Murder aboard a maritime vessel. An “offense against maritime navigation” is classed as a federal crime. This means that a murder aboard a ship or boat in U.S. waters (or of a U.S. citizen anywhere) would be classed as a federal murder. This law is traditionally used to prevent piracy. In summary and with some exceptions, murder becomes a federal crime when it occurs: in violation of federal law, or on federal land or territory, or against any federal official.
Federal murder cases are charged as either first-degree murder or second-degree murder.
What are the penalties for federal murder charges?
Nobody needs reminding that the penalties for a federal murder conviction are severe.
A conviction for federal murder in the first degree can lead to the death penalty or life imprisonment.
A second-degree murder conviction can result in many years in federal prison – up to a life sentence.
Even if you escape the harshest penalties, the consequences of a conviction for federal murder will impact the rest of your life.
Contact the Law Office of Nayib Hassan Today
Your best chance of escaping the most severe penalties of the federal justice system is to work with an experienced criminal attorney to vigorously defend the federal murder charges against you.
The steps you take immediately after being charged are critical. You must defend your rights and freedoms.
Call (305) 403-7323 or book a free online case evaluation with experienced federal defense attorney Nayib Hassan.