It goes without saying that first-degree murder is one of the most serious offenses for which you can be charged in the Commonwealth of Virginia. If convicted, you face a possible lifetime in prison, high fines, and classification as a felon for the rest of your life. While first-degree murder is a serious charge, the facts of your case may justify a lower charge or dismissal of your case.
If you or someone you care for has been charged with first-degree murder in Virginia, Bryan J. Jones can provide you with the advice you need to best protect your rights. You don't have to plead guilty just because you are charged with a crime.
Criminal Homicide in Virginia
In Virginia, there are multiple types of criminal homicide. Homicide is a deliberate and unlawful killing of one person by another. For prosecutors to determine which charge to indict, they must look to the unique factual situation of the case at hand. Under Virginia law, you could be charged with a criminal homicide in the form of:
- Capital Murder
- First-Degree Murder
- Second-Degree Murder
Elements of First-Degree Murder in Virginia
First-degree murder is defined in Va. Code § 18.2-32 as any murder, other than a murder which falls under the purview of the capital murder definition, in which any one or more of the following elements exists:
- Lying in wait,
- Imprisonment of the victim,
- Poisoning the victim,
- Starvation of the victim.
The charge can also be first-degree murder if it occurs during the commission or attempted commission of certain specific felonies:
Murder which is not capital murder and does not satisfy these requirements is classified as second-degree murder.
What makes first-degree murder different from capital murder?
The two charges can seem very similar when looked at quickly. However, the main difference is that a capital murder charge requires a prosecutor to prove that the killing was deliberate, intentional, and premeditated even when the crime occurs in the context of another crime. Premeditation can occur seconds before the homicide is committed. Pre-planning the murder is not necessarily required.
Murder which does not meet these criteria may fall under the category of a first- or second-degree murder in Virginia.
Penalties for First Degree Murder in Virginia
If you are convicted of first-degree murder, you face serious criminal penalties. First-degree murder is a Class 2 felony in the Commonwealth of Virginia. You face a prison sentence of 20 years to life. You also face a hefty fine which may not exceed $100,000.
After prison, you will also face the stigma of the "felon" label. From then on you will be required to check "Yes" on any form which asks if you have ever been convicted of a felony. Some employers are less likely to hire a felon over a non-felon, even if you are more highly qualified for a job.
Virginia Sex Offender Registration
If your first-degree murder charge stems from a concurrent sex offense, you may be required to register as a sex offender in Virginia. Under Va. Code § 9.1-902, certain sex crimes require sex offender registration. This includes rape, forcible sodomy, and object sexual penetration; the sex crimes explicitly listed in the first-degree murder statute.
If you are required to register, you may be required to register for your entire life. You will have to renew that registration once a year or every few months, depending on the circumstances of your case. Sex offenders are also required to notify neighbors of their presence and are restricted from living in certain places.
Defenses to First Degree Murder Charges in Virginia
While every case is different, and different defenses may apply to your case, your Virginia criminal attorney can analyze the unique facts of your case to present the best defense. Some of the following could be utilized to prevent or reduce your conviction.
Present Reasonable Doubt
The Virginia prosecutor is required to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, each and every element of the charge of first-degree murder. Your criminal defense attorney can show that there are inconsistencies in the prosecutor's case, creating doubt in the mind of the jury. Your attorney can also attempt to show that you did not act intentionally which can result in a not guilty verdict or a conviction for a lesser offense.
Eye Witness Identification
In many cases, eyewitness identification can simply be wrong. A suspect may be innocent and accused of a crime only because he or she looks vaguely like the individual who actually committed the crime. With proper investigation and a challenge by your attorney, the jury can see the many problems with eyewitness identification.
Further, police line-ups must conform to specific constitutional requirements. If the line up which was used to identify you was not properly performed, that evidence against you could be suppressed.
Suppression of Certain Evidence
Suppression is a legal mechanism which excludes evidence which was wrongfully acquired by the prosecution. If law enforcement did not follow the constitutional requirements for the collection of evidence, such as when a warrant is required, that evidence which was wrongfully obtained can be excluded from your case. In some instances, this can result in the dismissal of your charges, especially if the evidence excluded connected you in some way to the case.
If you use an affirmative defense, you are admitting to the killing of another person, but you are arguing that the killing was justified. This typically occurs with self-defense or defense of another. If you reasonably believed that the use of force was necessary to prevent your or another's death, sexual assault, or serious bodily harm the defense may apply to you.
Consult with Your Virginia Criminal Defense Attorney
A felony conviction for first-degree murder has serious consequences including substantial prison time and restrictions on your freedoms for the rest of your life. Even if the police and prosecutor treat you like you are guilty, you still have legal rights and defenses. Contact Virginia criminal defense attorney Bryan J. Jones to fight for your constitutional rights throughout the criminal process.