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Virginia Homicide Laws

In the state of Virginia, capital murder, murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter are all felonies. Section 18.2-30. With the exception of manslaughter, which, unlike many jurisdictions, is still a common law crime in Virginia, the following murder crimes fall under Title 18.2, Chapter 4 (crimes against the person). Visit the following link for more information about how a lawyer can help with homicide charges.

Capital Murder (Section 18.2-31)

Capital murder is a Class 1 felony, and encompasses specific circumstances surrounding murder that are deemed to be the most heinous felonies one can commit in Virginia. Section 18.2-31. There are 15 different offenses that qualify as capital murder. Section 18.2-31. An individual is guilty of capital murder if the individual intentionally, deliberately, and with premeditation:

  • Kills anyone while in the middle of an abduction or kidnapping (as under Section 18.2-48) with the intent of the abduction to extort money or to defile the victim of the abduction;
  • Hires another to kill any person, and the person is successfully killed;
  • Kills anyone when the individual is a prisoner, or in the custody of an employee of a state or local correctional facility;
  • Kills anyone during a robbery or attempting to rob someone;
  • Kills anyone while or after a rape, forcible sodomy, object sexual penetration, or an attempt at any of those three sexual crimes;
  • Kills a law enforcement officer, a firefighter acting with police powers (see Section 27-34.2), or a deputy/auxiliary police officer, when the killing is in order to stop the officer from performing the officer’s official duties;
  • Kills more than one person as part of the same act or transaction;
  • Kills at least two people within a three-year period;
  • Kills someone during a drug-related (see Section 18.2-248) crime involving a Schedule I or II controlled substance (see list of controlled substance Schedules here);
  •  Kills someone because the individual was ordered to by the individual’s boss, and the boss is part of a drug-related criminal organization (see Section 18.2-248(I));
  •  Kills a pregnant woman when the individual knows the woman is pregnant and intends to kill the unborn child;
  •  Kills anyone under 14 when the individual is over 21 years old;
  •  Kills anyone during an act of terrorism (see Section 18.2-46.4) or during an attempted act of terrorism;
  •  Kills a judge to interfere with the judge’s performance of his/her official duties, or;
  •  Kills a witness in a criminal case to prevent the witness from giving testimony or performing any other duties as a witness.

If an individual is guilty of capital murder, which is a Class 1 felony, and the individual is at least 18 years old and not mentally retarded (see Section 19.2-264.3:1.1)– then the individual faces a felony conviction and death or life imprisonment, with a possible fine of up to $100,000. Section 18.2-10(a). If an individual is guilty of capital murder and the individual is either under 18 years old or mentally retarded, then the individual faces a felony conviction with life imprisonment and a possible fine of up to $100,000. Section 18.2-10(a).

Murder in the 1st Degree (Section 18.2-32)

An individual is guilty of murder in the first degree if the individual (1) kills someone (2) in a manner not covered by capital murder, by any of the following:

  • Poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, or starving, or;
  • Any intentional, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or;
  • While committing (or trying to commit) rape, forcible sodomy, object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary, or abduction.

Although (c) may seem very similar to some capital murder provisions, the difference is that capital murder offenses require the killing to be intentional, deliberate, and premeditated even when the killing occurs in the midst of a different crime. Murder in the first degree that falls under (c) above does not require premeditation, willfulness, or a deliberate character. Section 18.2-32. Likewise, a willful, deliberate, and premeditated murder that does not meet any of the capital murder offenses would qualify as murder in the first degree. Section 18.2-32.

Murder in the first degree is a Class 2 felony. Section 18.2-32. Thus, an individual guilty of murder in the first degree faces 20 years to life in prison and a possible fine of up to $100,000. Section 18.2-10(b).

Murder in the 2nd Degree (Section 18.2-32)

An individual is guilty of murder in the second degree if the individual murders someone and the murder does not meet the requirements of either capital murder or murder in the first degree. Section 18.2-32. An individual guilty of murder in the second degree faces a felony conviction with five to 40 years in prison. Section 18.2-32.

Murder of a Pregnant Woman (Section 18.2-32.1)

If an individual, (1) without premeditation, intentionally and deliberately kills a pregnant woman, when (2) the individual knows the woman is pregnant and (3) intends to kill the fetus or unborn child, then the individual is guilty of this crime. Section 18.2-32.1. If an individual is guilty of murdering a pregnant woman as described in this section, then the individual faces penalties of a felony conviction and 10 to 40 years in prison. Section 18.2-32.1.

Manslaughter (Sections 18.2-35; 18.2-36; 18.2-36.1)

In the state of Virginia, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter are still common law offenses, which means they are not defined in statutes. See Blythe v. Commonwealth, 222 Va. 722, 725, 284 S.E.2d 796, 797 (1981). However, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter are both punishable as Class 5 felonies. Sections 18.2-35; 18.2-36.

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Manslaughter

The Court of Appeals of Virginia used the following definition of voluntary manslaughter: “Voluntary manslaughter may be found upon evidence that an intentional, non-malicious homicide occurred in sudden mutual combat or as a result of heat of passion induced by reasonable provocation.” Couture v. Commonwealth, 51 Va. App. 239, 656 S.E.2d 425, 430 (2008) (citing John L. Costello, Virginia Criminal Law & Procedure Section 3.6-1, at 64-65 (3d ed. 2002)).

In contrast, involuntary manslaughter is the unintentional killing of another human being. The Code of Virginia gives some guidance on conduct that qualifies and is punishable as involuntary manslaughter. Section 18.2-36.1. Specifically, Section 18.2-36.1(A) states that an individual who unintentionally causes someone’s death as a result of driving under the influence is guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Manslaughter Penalties

As both voluntary and involuntary manslaughter are Class 5 felonies, an individual guilty of either manslaughter offense faces penalties of a felony conviction with one to 10 years in prison, or, at the discretion of a jury or the court, a lessened penalty of up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500. Section 18.2-10(e).

Felony Homicide Section 18.2-33

In addition to the murder charges described above, it is possible for an individual to be charged with felony homicide. Felony homicide occurs when an individual is committing a non-murder felony and someone is accidentally (against the wishes of the individual committing the felony) killed. Section 18.2-33. Felony homicide is considered murder in the second degree and thus has the same penalty– a felony conviction with 5 to 40 years in prison. Section 18.2-33.

Attempted Murder Sections 18.2-25; 18.26

In the state of Virginia, attempting a felony is covered by separate sections of the criminal code. The offense of attempting a felony is broken down by the maximum punishment of the felony being attempted. When it comes to homicide offenses, the penalties for attempting homicide break down as follows:

  • If an individual is guilty of attempting capital murder, then the individual is guilty of a Class 2 felony and faces a felony conviction 20 years to life in prison and a possible fine of up to $100,000.
  • If an individual is guilty of attempting murder in the first degree or murder in the second degree, then the individual is guilty of a Class 4 felony and faces a felony conviction with two to 10 years in prison and a possible fine of up to $100,000.