Florida Court Discusses Evidence Needed to Prove a First Degree Murder Offense

Under Florida law, a person does not actually have to participate in the physical act of killing another human to be charged with offenses related to the murder. In other words, a person who helps another person plan and commit a murder may be charged as a principal to first-degree murder. In a recent opinion, a Florida court discussed what constitutes sufficient evidence that a person aided and abetted another individual in the commission of a homicide in a case in which a woman allegedly convinced her boyfriend to kill her husband. If you are charged with a murder offense, it is critical to meet with a trusted Clearwater criminal defense attorney to discuss your options.

Facts Surrounding the Murder

It is alleged that the defendant began having an extramarital affair with her husband’s best friend. The defendant did not want to obtain a divorce because she did not want to share custody of her young daughter. Therefore, she and the friend discussed a plan where the friend would take the husband duck hunting and push him into the water while he was wearing waders so that he would drown.

It is reported that things originally went as planned, but the husband was able to swim to shore and scream for help. The friend then shot and killed the husband and buried his body in another location. The friend and the defendant later married, but their marriage fell apart, and during the course of their divorce, the friend kidnapped the defendant. After the friend’s arrest, he admitted to the murder and relayed the defendant’s part in the crime. She was charged with and convicted of principal to first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, after which she appealed.

Evidence Needed to Prove a Principal to First Degree Murder Offense

On appeal, the defendant argued, in part, that the State failed to produce evidence sufficient to prove she acted as a principal to first-degree murder. Under Florida law, a person who commits any crime against the State or who hires, abets, or aids such a crime to be committed can be charged with a crime of the first degree if the crime is committed or attempted. The defendant argued that the statute required proof of an intent to commit the crime and physical action in furtherance of that intent.

To address the defendant’s argument, the court analyzed what behavior is criminalized under the principal statute. The court explained that the State must ultimately establish that a defendant engaged in conduct that constitutes active participation in the crime, which does not require a contemporaneous presence. Additionally, words alone are sufficient to be used to encourage or assist in the commission of an offense. Here, though, the court found that while the defendant discussed ways to kill her husband and the development of an alibi, she did not compel the friend to commit murder. Thus, the court reversed the defendant’s conviction on the principal to a first-degree murder charge.

Discuss Your Charges with a Capable Criminal Defense Attorney

A conviction for a murder crime can have life-altering consequences. If you are charged with a homicide offense, it is in your best interest to meet with an attorney to discuss your charges and possible defenses. Attorney William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a capable homicide defense attorney who can assist you in formulating compelling arguments to help you seek the best legal outcome possible in your case. You can contact Mr. Hanlon via the form online or by calling 727-897-5413 to schedule a meeting.

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