The way a law is interpreted is much more important than the said law itself. In case that a law is written confusingly, the jury might misinterpret the law and make decisions that were not intended by the author of the law. Due to that, a criminal defendant might receive a faulty verdict. A criminal might be freed or an innocent man might be punished.
Florida has been a prime witness in such faults. For 15 years, almost 100 attempted murder and/or murder convictions have been scrapped due to the state’s faultily written Manslaughter by Act. Most of the convictions have resulted to plea agreements and new trials.
The Problematic Manslaughter by Act
Manslaughter by act is an event wherein one person murdered another through an unlawful action against the victim, but the person who killed did not have any intentions of killing. For example: Two men are in a fistfight. Man A punches Man B, and Man B falls on the ground, which resulted to Man B’s head hitting the floor and dying of brain injury and other complications. Hence, Man A will be guilty of manslaughter by act.
It will be not considered an accident since Man A had intended to inflict harm on Man B, which resulted to his “accidental” death. He will still be charged of murder because his unlawful act caused Man B’s death. The only time the death will be considered an accident is when Man A did not intend to harm Man B and the punch only hit Man B by accident.
Second-Degree Murder Findings Become Rampant Due to Deaths Being “Unintentionally” Caused
The faulty instructions of the law means the jury will only consider the criminal guilty of the so-called crime if the defendant had intentions to make the event happen, thus causing the death of the victim. Due to the faulty way it was written, this law restricts the jury to convict someone that was charged with manslaughter of act if they only find that the defendant had the intention to kill.
Unfortunately, because of the nature of the requirement, it is common that juries find no killing intent on most of the defendants. And since the defendant still “somewhat” caused the death, they are usually charged with second-degree murder.
A person can be charged with second-degree murder even if he or she does not have the intent to kill. If the defendant displayed a behavior of disregard to human life and causes the death of another, he or she can be found guilty. This has caused prosecutors to go for second-degree murder when defendants are found clear of any killing intent.
The Difference Between Manslaughter by Act and Second-Degree Murder
Unfortunately, the punishments between manslaughter and second-degree murder have a great disparity, which can be abused. Manslaughter is considered a lesser crime than second-degree murder. Being convicted of manslaughter penalizes a criminal with a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment while being convicted of second-degree murder penalizes a criminal with life imprisonment.
Of course, due to this, many criminal defendants who pleaded that they have no killing intent were given harsher punishments. However, there is still hope. Any criminal defendant that was given a harsher punishment than they deserved can still be given another chance of receiving a much lighter sentence.
Broward County’s Leading Criminal Attorney
Thanks to the Eighth Amendment, criminal defendants that were unfairly and/or cruelly penalized for crimes can be given a chance. Kenneth Padowitz, a veteran criminal defense attorney, can help you on your behalf and assure you that you will receive a fair trial. If you are in need of assistance, you can get in touch with Broward criminal lawyer, Kenneth Padowitz, to receive a confidential, and free consultation.