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An Accidental Death in Fort Lauderdale: Was It Murder? Was It Manslaughter?

Recently, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel reported that a 38-year-old man, Richard Gibbon, may have killed his 2-year-old nephew by allowing the child access to his prescription methadone. This death is, it goes without saying, a horrible tragedy. At the same time, it provides an opportunity to consider the difference in legal consequences between death that results from intent and death that results from gross negligence. Is the latter considered murder? If so, murder in what degree? Or is it merely manslaughter?

In actuality, Mr. Gibbon is being charged with aggravated manslaughter. His first court appearance occurred today, and he was held on bond of $10,000. If Gibbon manages to make bail, he’ll be restrained from having any contact with children. Broward County Judge John “Jay” Hurley said, “I don’t necessarily think you’re a criminal who’s on the prowl. I realize you don’t have a criminal record. But this does appear, on the face of it, extreme gross negligence on your part.” Gibbon was charged with looking after his nephew, and evidently failed severely in preventing him from getting into the methadone. This has been an issue for Gibbon before. Child Protective Investigations reported that, in 2005, a 16-month-old niece of Gibbon was hospitalized after she was allowed to ingest his medication. In that case, Gibbon received counseling about the care of his prescriptions, but evidently the message did not quite get through.

A Legal Analysis

But what might Mr. Gibbon be guilty of? Did he actually commit an act of aggravated manslaughter—or worse, murder? In general, under Florida law, murder requires intent. First-degree murder requires that the defendant not only intended to kill, but must have premeditated the act (a killing “in cold blood”). Second-degree murder, by contrast, is defined as the “unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life.” § 782.04(2), Fla. Stat. (1995).

In Mr. Gibbon’s case, it seems that neither of these definitions applies. Although it is clear that Mr. Gibbon’s made a horrible and tragic mistake in failing to properly secure his medications around toddlers, it seems highly unlike that his crime was committed with the level of intentionality required by Florida law. So what about manslaughter? Under Florida law, manslaughter is defined as “[t]he killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another, without lawful justification… in cases in which such killing shall not be excusable homicide or murder.” § 782.07(1), Fla. Stat. (2005). This definition seems to more closely fit the bill. Mr. Gibbon may well have committed manslaughter by culpable negligence, though ultimately only the evidence at trial, proved by the state beyond a reasonable doubt, can bear that out.

Getting Counsel Is Imperative

If you’re in the unenviable circumstance of Mr. Gibbon of facing dire charges for the killing of another, it’s absolutely imperative that you obtain experienced counsel who knows the difference between the various crimes of homicide under Florida law. Overcharging by prosecutors’ offices is regrettably common, and you need a good defense to protect your rights. Get in touch with experienced manslaughter counsel like Fort Lauderdale criminal lawyer Kevin J. Kulik, P.A.

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