Posted On: April 2, 2012 by Leifert & Leifert

Fort Lauderdale Manslaughter vs. Murder Charges: The Trayvon Martin Case

The differences between Fort Lauderdale manslaughter and murder charges are nuanced and technical, but can make a big difference in terms of the penalties in the case.

Our Fort Lauderdale manslaughter defense attorneys know that this is a topic that has arisen much lately, in the wake of the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford. His death, reportedly at the hands of a neighborhood watch captain who claims self-defense, has triggered protests across the country, demanding prosecutorial action against the shooter, who has yet to be charged.

The truth of the matter is that for now, we don't know exactly what happened in the Trayvon Martin case - very few do at this point, and one of those individuals is now deceased. While we step back to allow the justice system to work, we do believe that some valid questions have arisen as a result of the case - one of which being the question regarding manslaughter vs. murder.

Examples of high-profile manslaughter cases include the man in Sumter County, whose python escaped its cage and killed a 2-year-old, or the doctor of Michael Jackson, who prescribed a lethal dose of a powerful sedative.

The parents of Trayvon Martin, the teenager who was killed in February in Sanford, are calling for George Zimmerman, the gunman, to be charged with murder.

Sanford police, however, had initially investigated the crime as one of manslaughter, which is defined under FL Statute 782.07. The difference between this and murder, which is defined under FL Statute 782.04, comes down to intent and culpable negligence.

In most cases, when we talk about manslaughter, we're talking about an act that was committed in the heat of the moment. A manslaughter results in a death, but in order to prove that a person committed this crime, a prosecutor doesn't have to show that the act was planned or premeditated.

What the prosecutor does have to show, according to that statute, is something called culpable negligence. This means essentially you have done something and didn't use that common sense voice in your head that says, "Somebody might get hurt if I do this."

In fact, it's more than just being negligent. Prosecutors have to show a wanton disregard for the safety of other people.

In the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, there has been much speculation about what happened that night. Zimmerman says he was acting in self-defense after Martin attacked him. But supporters of Martin say Zimmerman followed Martin when he was advised not to by a 911 dispatcher, and further, may have attacked Martin unprovoked.

Police initially used the Stand Your Ground Law under FL Statute 776.013 - which basically says that you don't have to retreat if you feel threatened and can use force to protect yourself - as a reason for not initially filing charges.

Again, we don't know the facts of this specific case, but in order to prove Zimmerman guilty of manslaughter, prosecutors would have to show that not only did his actions cause Martin's death (which is almost certain), but that those actions were wanton and reckless and not protected under self defense or Stand Your Ground.

If convicted on a manslaughter charge, Zimmerman would face a penalty of up to 30 years in prison. Typically, a manslaughter conviction would net a maximum of 15 years behind bars, but the sentences are stiffer when the alleged victim is either a child, a disabled person or an elderly person.

If you need criminal defense in Fort Lauderdale, Broward or Palm Beach, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
Trayvon Martin case: What is difference between manslaughter and murder charges?, By Rene Stutzman, Orlando Sentinel

More Blog Entries:
Shooting in West Palm Beach Nets Arrest of 17-year-old, March 5, 2012, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Lawyer Blog