Stephen G. Cobb - Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer

What Are The Differences Between Murder, Homicide And Manslaughter Charges?


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.

Each one of them has a specific definition and each one of them is divided into degrees. For example, you have first, second, and a third degree murder. You have murder charges that are death penalty offenses and murder charges that are not death penalty offenses. Homicide is simply another way of saying murder. However, when it comes to traffic cases, you will hear the phrase “Vehicular Homicide” because that’s how the statute is written rather than vehicular murder. Manslaughter is a form of murder but is a lesser degree generally across the board.

All three variants are extremely serious whether or not the death penalty is involved because even lesser included offenses on these types of charges can result in extremely lengthy prison sentences that many cases will not expire simply because the person will die in prison. So these kinds of cases have the highest level of scrutiny and require the highest level of skill.

Are Murder, Homicide Or Manslaughter Bondable Offenses In Florida?

Those are extremely difficult to get a bail bond for and there is no right to a bail bond for those types of cases. Prosecutors frequently follow up first appearance or go to first appearance armed and loaded forebear actually in the form of a pre-trial detention motion. In addition to the difficulty of getting a bond to begin with, the prosecution can file a motion for pre-trial detention and that’s what they do in a large number of murder, homicide and involuntary manslaughter cases. Now, in the case of a first degree murder, death penalty case, getting a bail bond is going to be extremely difficult. The court is going to be concerned about safeguarding the public and is also going to be deeply concerned about the defendant’s potential to skip town. When you start going over into manslaughter and homicide need cases, you still have the same problems but bonds are more unlikely.

For example, I had a vehicular homicide manslaughter racing on the highway case out of Santa Rosa County a few years ago that took almost a year to go to trial. My client could have very well been stuck in jail for that entire time on a case for which he was eventually acquitted. However, my client had extremely strong ties with the local community, he had a government job which he had worked for faithfully for a number of years. He had sufficient ties, contacts and other connections to the community that the court felt safe releasing him on bond. However, he was required to wear an ankle transmitter and he had other restrictions on his liberty such as he had to turn in his passport.

It is possible to get a bail bond motion granted in a murder homicide or manslaughter case but concerns have to be addressed very carefully and these are very different bond motions and bond hearings than you find in non-murder manslaughter homicide cases. The conditions are usually more extreme, the bond amounts are usually far higher, and it is not uncommon for bail bonds to be $1 million or more if they are granted at all in these types of cases.

What Are The Sentencing Guidelines For Murder, Homicide And Manslaughter Charges In Florida?

Basically Florida uses what’s known as rule 3.992(a) to calculate point, and then there are 14 recognized downward departure grams in mitigation that are in rule 3.992(b). We still call it the criminal sentencing guidelines although the terminology should be changed to the Florida punishment code to more accurately reflect the law itself. We used to have uniformed sentencing guidelines, however, now we have a completely different set of sentencing rules that are the Florida Punishment Code. As you can imagine, murder, manslaughter, homicide cases, they are going to be near the top of the list. In the score sheets, there is the first category where a primary offense will be designated.

If someone’s charged with more than one offense, the primary offense is going to go into that very first category and points will be assessed according to what the charge is and where it falls on a scale that starts as low as level 1 and goes as high as level 10. Then after that, there is this section to score any additional offenses and they are all given numerical values corresponding whether it’s a level 1 or level 10 or level 5, whatever. After that, they start looking at prior records, victim injury, whether or not there is a Prison Release re-offender Act application, whether or not there is a violation of probation or a violation of the lease conditions. Then down at the bottom of rule 3.992(a) score sheets, there is a calculation section whereby a sentence is calculated as the minimum sentence in the Department of Corrections when you’re talking about manslaughter and murder because each one of them easily scores more than the 44 points threshold for mandatory imprisonment.

At the same time, someone may have certain mitigating factors available to them. In murder cases, you might have, for example, someone who is charged with the first degree murder case, that’s a death case, and they may be willing to provide information to the police to resolve other extremely serious crimes. I actually had that happened with a client who is considered one of the youngest serial killers in the United States. As a result of him providing that information, which brought closure to other families and closed pending investigations for other major crimes, his consideration in that case was that the state no longer sought the death penalty and he entered the plea of no contest and was sentenced for life in prison. So there is plea bargaining in these cases and in that case, what happened was that was the death penalty case and that was a legitimate, un-coerced plea bargain, to use the language of the Florida Punishment Code Rules.

Now, finally, all of these things are subject to negotiation. If someone’s charged with second degree murder, perhaps during the negotiations, a lesser charge, say manslaughter might be substituted. That will affect someone’s point and potential sentence. It can mean the difference in a case, say, 45 years versus 17 years, which is a pretty big deal. So there is plea bargaining that can happen in these types of cases but generally speaking, once you start looking at these types of charges, it’s a matter of imprisonment for a number of years, imprisonment for a term of life, or a potential death penalty.

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.

For more information on Murder, Homicide & Manslaughter Cases, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (850) 466-1522 today.

Stephen G. Cobb, Esq.

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