A charge of murder is one of the most serious crimes that can be charged against an individual in the Commonwealth of Virginia. There are very serious consequences which can result from a conviction for murder or any of the other homicide offenses. You face high fines, felon status, and long prison sentences.
If you have been charged with murder, or another homicide offense, I can help you understand the consequences of a possible conviction, but more importantly, how to defend your case. With the help of an experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney, you can protect your constitutional rights.
Capital Murder is the most serious homicide charge for which you can be charged. It is defined as the intentional, willful, deliberate and premeditated killing of a person under any of the following circumstances.
- Killing of any person in the commission of an abduction when the abduction was for the purpose of extorting money or a pecuniary benefit or with the intent to defile the victim.
- Killing of any person by another for hire.
- Killing of any person by a prisoner in a state or local correctional facility, or while in the custody of an employee of such a facility.
- Killing of any person in the commission of a robbery or an attempted robbery.
- Killing of any person during or after a rape, attempted rape, forcible sodomy, attempted forcible sodomy, or object sexual penetration.
- Killing of a law enforcement officer when the killing is to interfere with official duties.
- Killing of more than one person as part of the same act or transaction.
- Killing of more than one person within a three-year period.
- The killing of a pregnant woman when the accused knew she was pregnant and intended to end the pregnancy.
- The accused was 21 or over and the person killed was under 14 years old.
- The murder happened during an act or attempted act of terrorism.
- The victim was a judge at the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Court, or District Court.
- The victim was a witness in a criminal proceeding after a subpoena was received by the victim, and the murder was committed to interfere with that person's duties in the criminal case (e.g. a witness).
As a result of a conviction, you could face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. There are certain findings a jury must make before the death penalty can be imposed, and with the help of a criminal defense attorney, these findings can be challenged to prevent that sentence.
First-degree murder is any murder, other than capital murder, in which any of the following elements exist:
- 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:
The charge is a Class 2 felony and carries with it a prison sentence of 20 years to life in prison. You also face a high fine which may not exceed $100,000.
If convicted of first-degree murder during the commission or attempted commission of a sex crime, you will also be required to register as a sex offender in Virginia. Registration requires periodic re-registration, notice of any address changes, work changes, and notification to those living around you of sex offender status.
Second-degree murder is defined as:
"All murder other than capital murder and murder in the first degree is murder of the second degree and is punishable by confinement in a state correctional facility for not less than five nor more than forty years."
To make the determination of whether the charge is second-degree murder, a Virginia prosecutor must look to the unique facts and circumstances of the criminal case. First, the prosecutor must determine if the facts justify a charge of capital murder or first-degree murder. If not, then the murder is a murder of the second degree.
Second-degree murder usually encompasses killings committed in the "heat of the moment," without premeditation but with malice. Malice could mean that the accused was reckless in his or her conduct, the offender intended to cause injury, or the conduct had a very high risk of causing another person's death and the offender simply did not care.
If convicted of second-degree murder, you face a prison sentence from five years to a maximum of 40 years. You will also be subject to the "felon" label, which could affect your right to vote and ability to gain and maintain employment.
Involuntary manslaughter occurs when a person causes the death of another person unintentionally. It can result from committing some unlawful act, which is not a felony, and that unlawful act causes another person's death. It can also occur if the accused commits a lawful act but performs it in a way which is either criminally negligent or reckless.
Conduct which shows indifference towards human life, or an awareness that death was the probable result of a person's actions can qualify as criminal negligence.
If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, you are convicted of a Class 5 felony. You face a prison sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.
Defenses to Your Charge
Just because you are charged with a crime, does not mean that you are guilty. There are defenses which can be raised to your charges to reduce or even dismiss them. An experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney can argue
- Issues which raise reasonable doubt,
- Problems with eyewitness identification,
- Suppress improperly gathered evidence, or
- Challenge the premeditation or intent aspects of a charge.
Any one of these defenses could help protect your life, your finances, and your freedom.
Consult a Virginia Murder Attorney
A charge of murder or involuntary manslaughter carries with it extreme penalties if you are convicted. Without experienced defense counsel, you may miss out on opportunities to challenge your charges and present legal defenses. Your charges could be reduced or even dismissed in certain situations. Your defense attorney will also make sure the prosecutor does not take advantage of you and your case.