What Is Your Experience In Handling Murder Or Manslaughter Cases?

Disclaimer: This article is in response to questions frequently asked of Mr. Cobb and is an unedited dictation transcript. Just like talk to text on your smartphone, there may be misspelled words or sentence fragments.

My experience with defending murder, homicide, manslaughter crimes has changed significant over the years. When I first started practicing, July the 2nd of 1990, there was no such rule for capital cases such as rule 3.112 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. That rule sets forth minimum standards for death penalty cases and what was shocking when I first read it is that every single aspect of that rule would have been violated if it had been in place when I started my career. Back in the day when I first started, there was no requirement for a second legal counsel, there was no requirement for a certain continuing legal education, there was no requirement for experience in death penalty cases and the way the rule draws out that experience, you have to have quite a bit of it before you can even sit at the table, I started from scratch and with less than 2 years of experience.

I had a first degree death penalty case. Today, that would never be allowed. So that’s a little bit about my experience. I have done this so long that I actually practiced before rules that prohibit people from handling death penalty cases with that little experience were enforced. So I’ve had a lot more death penalty experience than lawyers can get now. The most serious death penalty case I’ve probably handled, and they are all serious, but the biggest by far was a quadruple homicide case that happened in Florida. Along the way, I have handled multiple manslaughter cases, and my most recent trial case was the not guilty verdict in a racing on the highway, vehicular homicide manslaughter case. My client was facing three counts and the fact pattern basically was that he was racing on the highway and that it resulted in an accident that killed someone and injured another party.

In fact, my client was not guilty; we had a very long 5-day jury trial and shortly before 10 o’clock on Friday night, in Milton Florida, my client was found not guilty by a jury of his peers. Needless to say that was probably one of the most stressful things that he and his family ever went through. One does not handle a larger number of murder, manslaughter and homicide cases because thankfully, they are actually very rare. But when handling any form of a case involving the death of the human being, several things are important. Number one, lead counsel must be selected very carefully, number two, no one should ever hire lead counsel with this idea of “Attorney as hero”. On these types of major felonies and other non-death felonies, I feel very, very strongly that a litigation team needs to be in place where each team member has clearly defined very specific responsibilities under the supervision of lead counsel. That makes all the difference in the world and can mean the difference between the conviction and acquittal.

What Is The Difference Between Voluntary And Involuntary Manslaughter?

Basically what it means is that voluntary manslaughter is something done with an act of will, whereas involuntary manslaughter is something that is done without an active will. The answer to whether or not it is recognized in Florida is very simple, yes and no. What do I mean? When it comes to these types of cases, you’ll almost always see motions to the clear statute’s unconstitutional because every year the legislature meets in Tallahassee and it is extremely unusual for them not to tinker with criminal law. The problem is most of our legislatures are not lawyers. That used to be other way around and we had more lawyers than any other profession represented in the legislature.

That’s become a problem as the percentage of lawyers had decreased and legislative drafting has become a little bit less artful. What do I mean by that? A little less artful in the sense that many times constitutional questions have arisen because of the way a particular statute has been drawn. What often happens is the legislature goes back to the drawing board and they try and reinstate the severity after the Florida Supreme Court, for example, has thrown the statute out. We recently had that happened with Florida’s death penalty sentence law which was held to be unconstitutional. The United States Supreme Court has decided that a majority of verdict for death sentence is not available, it has to be a unanimous decision.

With that type of a ruling, that undoes a large number of death penalty cases that are in the appellate pipeline. So death penalty cases are some of the most difficult cases to handle. When you’re talking about things like voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, that almost always brings up a defense that has fallen out of favor but that nevertheless is still sought to be used and that is known as a voluntary intoxication. Basically someone is so intoxicated due to drugs or alcohol that they are not able to form the mental intent necessary for a jury to make a certain finding in a murder case.

Disclaimer: This article is in response to questions frequently asked of Mr. Cobb and is an unedited dictation transcript. Just like talk to text on your smartphone, there may be misspelled words or sentence fragments.

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