Murder can be committed in a number of different ways and the manner in which it is committed determines the severity of the offense and the possible penalty imposed. Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being and will be charged as first degree murder where the defendant acted with premeditation or the death occurred during the commission of certain felonies enumerated in the statute. For instance, where the death occurs during the commission of a Robbery, Sexual Battery, or Burglary, the Murder could be charged as first degree. There are a number of other enumerated crimes in the statute that would allow the government to charge first degree Murder. There are only two penalties for first degree Murder: life in prison or the death penalty. Even the judge may not give a person convicted of first degree Murder less than a life sentence.
Not all Murder is Murder in the first degree. Where a death occurs as a result of the criminal act of the defendant, but without premeditation, the crime could be charged as either second degree Murder or Manslaughter, depending on the exact circumstances of the case. The death penalty may not be imposed for a conviction of second degree Murder or Manslaughter. A conviction for second degree Murder can result in a life sentence, although it is not mandatory. In other words, the judge does have discretion in determining the sentence imposed. Manslaughter is punishable by a maximum of 15 years in prison.
The sentence imposed for a conviction for second degree Murder or Manslaughter will often depend on the exact circumstances of the case as well as the background of the individual defendant. Oftentimes, there are certain mandatory minimum sentences that the judge must impose. For instance, where a firearm was used to commit the homicide, the judge may not sentence the defendant to less than 25 years in prison.