Homicide is one of the most serious criminal charges, involving the killing of another person. In Virginia, homicide is a felony offense that carries a mandatory minimum sentence and can result in the death penalty. Murder cases are complex but the police and prosecutors may not be interested in hearing the whole story.
If you or a loved one is accused of murder in Virginia, contact an experienced Charlottesville criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.
Virginia Homicide Laws
Under Virginia Homicide laws, all murder or manslaughter crimes are felonies. Homicide can be classified as:
- Capital Murder
- Murder of the First Degree
- Murder of the Second Degree
- Voluntary Manslaughter
- Involuntary Manslaughter
Capital murder is generally the most serious homicide and generally involves murder during the commission of some other crime, multiple murders, or against a certain person. Capital murder is punishable by the death penalty in Virginia. Under Virginia Code § 18.2-31 Capital murder includes the willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of any person, under a number of circumstances, including:
- During an abduction,
- Murder for hire,
- Killing a prisoner,
- During a robbery,
- In the commission of rape,
- Killing a police officer,
- Killing more than one person,
- In an act of terrorism,
- Killing a judge, or
- Killing a witness in a criminal trial.
Under Virginia Code § 18.2-32, murder (other than capital murder) is classified as murder in the first degree, when it is committed by:
- Poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, or
- Willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing or in the commission of:
- Forcible sodomy or sexual penetration,
- Burglary, or
First-degree murder is a Class 2 felony. The penalties for a first-degree murder conviction range from 20 years to life imprisonment.
Murder, other than capital murder or murder in the first degree is murder of the second degree. Murder of the second degree is punishable by 5 to 40 years in a state correctional facility.
Under Virginia Code § 18.2-35, voluntary manslaughter is punishable as a Class 5 felony. Manslaughter is different than murder because the killing in manslaughter is not premeditated. Manslaughter may occur as the result of a “crime of passion” killing.
For example, if a man walks into his house and sees his wife in bed with another man, and the husband suddenly lashed out and hit the other man with an object, killing him, that may be considered voluntary manslaughter.
Under Virginia Code § 18.2-36, involuntary manslaughter is also punishable as a Class 5 felony. Involuntary manslaughter differs from voluntary manslaughter in that the death is usually an unintentional accident. For example, Mike and Sam get into a fight, Mike punches Sam and Sam falls back, hitting his head on the curb and dying. Mike may have intentionally punched Sam but did not intend to kill him. Mike may be charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Other unintentional killings could also be charged as involuntary manslaughter. For example, drunk driving that causes the death of another or operating a watercraft while under the influence that causes the death of another person are both considered involuntary manslaughter, depending on the circumstances. If the defendant conduct showed a reckless disregard for human life, they may be guilty of aggravated involuntary manslaughter, punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment.
Murder of a Pregnant Woman
Virginia has a specific statute, Virginia Code § 18.2-32.1, for the murder of a pregnant woman. The willful and deliberate killing of a pregnant woman without premeditation by someone who knows the woman is pregnant and intends to cause the involuntary termination of the pregnancy is a felony punishable by 10 to 40 years in prison.
Defenses to Homicide Charges
There may be a number of possible legal defenses to charges of homicide, murder, or manslaughter. The prosecutor may make it seem like the accused is guilty and does not have a chance to avoid jail time. The prosecutor may then offer a deal to get a reduced sentence in exchange for pleading guilty.
With homicide penalties being among the most severe, no one should be convicted of a crime unless the prosecutors can prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is any doubt about the defendant's guilt, the judge or jury should find the defendant not guilty. An experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney will investigate the case to identify all the possible defenses and build a strong case to raise doubts about the prosecutor's burden of proof.
Before you take any plea deal offered by the prosecutor or give up your rights, talk to your Virginia criminal defense attorney. Possible defenses to homicide may include the following.
Self-Defense or Defense of Others
If another person is threatening to harm or kill you or a family member, you may have a defense by claiming self-defense or the defense of another. Generally, to claim self-defense, the defendant has to show that they reasonably believe that force is necessary to protect oneself from the imminent use of unlawful force by another.
Similarly, if another person is being threatened with imminent and unlawful threat of force and that person could claim self-defense, then someone who steps in to defend that person may be protected through a defense of others claim.
Eyewitness testimony is not always reliable. A person's perceptions and memory can fail because of time, poor lighting, fear or stress, distance, or even prejudices. A witness may be sure that they saw the defendant kill a victim when that victim is the wrong age, height, weight, or even the wrong sex.
Charlottesville Criminal Defense Lawyer
The death of another person is a tragedy. Unfortunately, innocent people can face criminal charges for that person's death, even if it was justified or accidental. If you or a loved one was arrested on manslaughter or murder charges in Charlottesville, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney about how to build a strong defense and fight against a criminal conviction. Contact attorney me today for a free consultation.