Homicide is one of the most serious crimes on the docket of Virginia courts, and the Commonwealth often presumes that a murder is in the second degree, given the elements required to provide capital murder versus those required to provide second degree murder. § 18.2-30 through § 18.2-76.1 describe crimes against a person. § 18.2-30 establishes both murder and manslaughter as felonies while § 18.2-31 enforces capital murder as a Class 1 felony, the most serious felony in the state.
The Commonwealth refers to first degree murder as “capital murder,” which is defined in § 18.2-31. Murders allegedly committed for hire, committed on separate occasions over the course of three years (multiple victims), and murder during an act of terrorism are all considered capital murder. In addition, an alleged murder committed by a person over the age of 21 with a victim under age 14 is capital murder if the murder is deemed premeditated, willful, and deliberate.
Prosecutors will often seek second degree murder charges first in any murder case, as he or she only needs to prove that the accused committed a murder, regardless of premeditation. This leaves the burden of proof on the homicide attorneys in Virginia, who attempt to prove that a lesser charge such as manslaughter took place. While manslaughter is still a crime under state law, the penalties associated with manslaughter and second degree murder differ dramatically. An experienced Virginia homicide lawyer will often seek dismissal of charges with a plea of not guilty, or petition for lesser charges of manslaughter.
Along the same lines, in order to secure a first degree murder conviction, also known as capital or premeditated murder, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder was premeditated, willful, and deliberate. Defenses used in murder trials range from plea bargains to self defense. Contrary to popular belief, the argument for self defense is still an affirmative defense, acknowledging that the accused indeed intentionally killed another party (Johnson V. Commonwealth, 1949.)
Murders allegedly committed while the accused in engaged in another felonious act are considered murders of the second degree.
A Class 1 felony, such as a first degree murder, is punishable by death or life imprisonment, as well as a fine of up to $100,000. Second degree murder, on the other hand, is lower class felony with a potential sentence of five to 40 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $100,000 Both voluntary and involuntary manslaughter are punishable by one to 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $2,500. An aggravated involuntary manslaughter conviction, however, may carry up to twenty years in prison.
Certain murders also carry harsher penalties depending on the victim. For example, the second degree murder of a pregnant woman carries a minimum prison sentence of 10 years (but no more than 40.) Virtually the only time that a murder carries no sentence is when the court deems the murder justifiable or excusable, which is a common argument in self defense cases. Justifiable or excusable murders are not crimes under state law.
Schedule a free consultation with a Virginia homicide attorney from our firm for more precise and nuanced information on the laws and penalties surrounding homicide in Virginia, as well as how they may apply to your case.
The laws concerning homicide in the Commonwealth are complex, and the penalties that would accompany a conviction are steep. It is important that you have a strong understanding of the charge you face, as well as any penalties that might might be issued with a conviction. It is unreasonable to expect that you will have this knowledge without consulting with a homicide attorney in Virginia who will be able to explain the specifics of your case. We would advise that you not go through this situation alone.
When you hire a lawyer with our firm, you will have a consummate legal professional on your side that will ensure your rights are protected throughout a possible trial. They can also work towards negotiating a lesser charge before the trial. The best way to understand what lays ahead of you, as well as the services that our attorneys can provide, is to contact us as soon as possible.
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