Virginia Homicide Lawyer
Homicide is the killing of one human being by another human being. The term “murder” is often confused with “homicide.” While all murders are homicides, not all homicides are murders. Without question, a person’s untimely death is always tragic, but it is not always criminal. On this page, I provide a brief overview of homicide charges and the defenses your Virginia homicide lawyer can assert on your behalf. While murder is the most well-known of all the offenses discussed below, murder only accounts for a very small fraction of charged homicides. However, all homicide charges are extremely serious and they require a talented, aggressive, and knowledgeable Virginia homicide lawyer with the ability and expertise to assert a solid defense.
There six separate forms of homicide-related charges in Virginia. Below, I briefly discuss each of these charges and how a Virginia homicide lawyer can help you.
- Capital murder is charged when a protected class of persons is killed intentionally or when a murder is committed under a particular set of circumstances. But a few circumstances which can give rise to capital murder charges include when two or more people are killed at the same time; a person 14 years old or younger is killed by a person age 21 or older; a person is killed through an act of terrorism; or when a person murders a member of law enforcement.
- Capital murder is a Class 1 felony punishable by a sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty and a fine of up to $100,000.
First Degree Murder
- First Degree murder is generally charged for intentional killings, killings by dangerous weapons, poison, imprisonment, starving, or by any willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing.
- First degree murder is a Class 2 felony punishable 20 years to life in prison and up to $100,000 in fines.
Second Degree Murder
- Second degree murder is charged when a person’s actions do not meet the standards of first degree murder. It can also be charged for unintentional or accidental killings during a the commission of a felony.
- A person found guilty of second degree murder faces a punishment of 5 to 40 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
- Voluntary manslaughter is charged when a person kills another person in a rage or heat of passion and was not provided the time necessary to engage in mature consideration or premeditation. Manslaughter is commonly a reduced charge after the accused had initially been charged with first or second degree murder.
- Voluntary manslaughter is a Class 5 felony which carries a sentence of 1 to 10 years in prison.
- Involuntary Manslaughter is the unlawful, unintentional killing of a human being during the commission of an unlawful act (not amounting to a felony.) It can also be charged as the result of person’s negligent or reckless conduct which results in a killing.
- Like voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter is a Class 5 felony carrying a sentence of 1 to 10 years in prison.
- If a person is killed during a commission of a felony – even if the killing was accidental or unintentionally – the felony murder rule requires that the intent to kill did exist.
- Felony homicide is considered to be a second-degree murder. Accordingly, the same penalty as second degree murder shall apply – 5 to 40 years in a state prison.
Virginia Homicide Lawyer Explains the Defenses to Murder Charges
Like all other criminal offenses, homicide-related offenses must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. But a good Virginia homicide lawyer will be able to create that doubt in the minds of the jury. Some of the possible defenses your Virginia homicide lawyer can assert on your behalf:
It is a total defense to homicide charges if the defendant acted with an honest and reasonable belief that committing a homicide was the only way to prevent them from being killed. Your Virginia homicide lawyer will be able to assert this defense if there is evidence which suggests that you were not the aggressor and that the force used under the circumstances was reasonable. This defense is very effective if the alleged victim was found to be carrying a deadly weapon.
Your Virginia homicide lawyer will be able to assert the defense of crime prevention if there is evidence which shows that you acted to prevent a crime from occurring and that the force used was reasonable under the circumstances.
A mistake can very well be enough to show that the defendant lacked the required mental state to commit a murder. This generally occurs when a person mistakenly, but honestly believes that the force used was reasonable. While this defense may not absolve the person of all criminal responsibility, a qualified Virginia homicide lawyer may be able to lessen or mitigate a client’s potential punishment.
Call a Virginia Homicide Lawyer Now for a Free Consultation
Homicide laws and their potential defenses are complicated. Additionally, when homicide charges are in play, the stakes are extremely high. Thus, if you are facing homicide charges, you will need the assistance of an aggressive Virginia homicide lawyer who will vigorously fight to obtain the best possible outcome in your case. In these very difficult times, you are going to need the best Virginia criminal lawyer you can get.
The Law Offices of Randall Sousa provide full-service legal defense to people who have been charged with homicide-related crimes. We have the know-how, the motivation, and the skills to help ensure that you obtain the best possible outcome. Whether that outcome includes plea bargaining to a less severe charge or taking your case to trial, we will be relentless in our drive to help you. Contact our office today for a free consultation with a Virginia homicide attorney. 571-354-6164
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By: Randall Sousa
Virginia Murder & Homicide Laws
Capital Murder (Virginia Code § 18.2-31)
Pursuant to Virginia murder laws under Virginia Code § 18.2-31, there are 15 separate circumstances by which a person can be charged with capital murder. Capital murder is a Class 1 felony which can be punished by death, life imprisonment, and a fine of up to $100,000. Any murder occurring in the following circumstances must be willful, deliberate, and premeditated in order to constitute capital murder:
- The killing occurs in the commission of an abduction when the abduction was committed with the intent to extort money or to defile (rape or sexually assault) the victim of the abduction;
- The killing is committed in a “murder for hire” scheme;
- The killing is committed by a prisoner confined in a state or local correctional facility;
- The killing occurs during the commission of a robbery;
- The killing occurs during the commission of, or subsequent to, a rape, an attempted rape, forcible sodomy or an attempted forcible sodomy or object sexual penetration;
- The killing of a law enforcement officer, police officer, sheriff, a fire marshal, deputy fire marshal, or assistant fire marshal with police powers, for the purpose of interfering with the performance of official duties.
- The killing is of more than one person as a part of the same act or transaction;
- The killing is of more than one person within a three-year period;
- The killing occurs during the commission or attempted commission of the sale, distribution, manufacturing, or possessing a controlled substance with the intent to sell or distribute the controlled (or imitation) controlled substance;
- The killing occurs pursuant to the direction or order of another person who is engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise (i.e. mob or gang hit);
- The killing is of a pregnant woman by one who knows that the woman is pregnant and has the intent to cause the involuntary termination of the woman’s pregnancy without a live birth;
- The killing is of a person under the age of fourteen by a person age twenty-one or older;
- The killing is of any person by another in the commission of or attempted commission of an act of terrorism as defined in §18.2-46.4;
- The killing is of a justice of the Supreme Court, a judge of the Court of Appeals, a judge of a circuit court or district court, a retired judge sitting by designation or under temporary recall, or a substitute judge appointed under Virginia Code §16.1-69.9, when the killing is for the purpose of interfering with his/her official duties as a judge; and
- The killing of any witness in a criminal case after a subpoena has been issued for such witness by the court, the clerk, or an attorney, when the killing is for the purpose of interfering with the person’s duties in such case.
First Degree Murder (Virginia Code § 18.2-32)
Pursuant to Virginia murder and homicide laws, first degree murder is generally charged for intentional killings, killings by dangerous weapons, poison, imprisonment, starving, or by any willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing. First Degree murder can also be charged for a killing during the commission, or attempted commission, of arson, rape, forcible sodomy, object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary, or abduction, except as provided in Virginia Code § 18.2-31. First Degree murder is punishable as a Class 2 felony with a penalty of 20 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
Second Degree Murder (Virginia Code § 18.2-32)
According to Virginia murder laws, all murder other than capital murder and murder in the first degree is murder in the second degree. So too are the unintentional and accidental killings of another during the commission of a felony, with exception of those crimes specified in Virginia Code §§ 18.2-31 and 18.2-32. Murder in the second degree is punishable by confinement in a state correctional facility for a period of 5 to 40 years.
Voluntary Manslaughter (Virginia Code § 18.2-35)
Sometimes, even a deliberate killing does not amount to murder. Voluntary Manslaughter applies to killings committed in the heat of passion when a person acts impulsively as a result of sudden rage rather than premeditation, and voluntarily kills someone. However, because they acted in a rage, they did not have the opportunity to think clearly enough to form the intent required for murder. Most of the time, manslaughter is a reduced charge after an initial charge of murder.
Involuntary Manslaughter (Virginia Code § 18.2-36)
Involuntary Manslaughter is the unlawful, unintentional killing of a human being during the commission of an unlawful act (not amounting to a felony.) By way of example, if a person hits and kills a child with their vehicle while driving 40 miles per hour down a street with a posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour, they will likely be charged with involuntary manslaughter because,according to Virginia murder and homicide laws, although they were driving over the speed limit, their unlawful conduct was neither felonious nor willful, wanton, or grossly negligent/reckless. Involuntary manslaughter is a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.
Felony Murder (Virginia Code § 18.2-33)
Even when a killing is unintentional, Virginia murder laws hold that it can still form the basis for a murder charge if the killing was committed during the commission of a felony. Under Virginia murder laws, if the defendant unintentionally kills someone during the commission of a felony, the intent to commit murder is assumed. In Virginia, felony murder is generally charged as murder in the second degree. In the case of DUI murder, the Commonwealth’s attorney can only bring second degree murder charges when it is a felony DUI.
Vehicular Homicide / DUI Murder
Whenever a traffic accident results in a fatality—either to the operator of another vehicle, a passenger in either vehicle, or a pedestrian—the potential always exists for one of the drivers to be charged with vehicular homicide. Without question, traffic fatalities are tragic, but accidents do happen, and not all deaths caused by car accidents are criminal. Unfortunately, far too many traffic fatalities often involve a driver who has been drinking or using drugs. In these situations, law enforcement has shown a tendency to jump to the conclusion that because a driver had alcohol or drugs in their system, this also means that they were the party who caused the accident. If charges are brought, they will be felony charges. The real question is whether the accident was caused by the deceased or by the defendant. If the accident was caused by the defendant, the next question is whether it was simple negligence or recklessness which caused the accident. If it was simple negligence, a judge may choose to not sentence the defendant to any jail time at all. But if you are found to have been under the influence at the time of the accident, it can serve as an enhancement which allows the judge to sentence you to up to 20 years in prison.
If you or a loved one has been charged with violated any Virginia murder or homicide laws, it is absolutely vital to retain an aggressive, knowledgeable Virginia homicide lawyer to fight for you. Contact the Law Offices of Randall Sousa now for a free consultation. 571-354-6164
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