Homicide Crimes in Virginia
In Virginia, the most common homicide charges are First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder, and Manslaughter. Murder is a killing done with malice; manslaughter is a killing without malice. There are varying degrees, or severities, of the murder and manslaughter charges under Virginia law, but all have one thing in common: they are serious offenses with significant, potentially life-altering consequences if convicted.
If you are charged with homicide, the consequences can be severe, and you will no doubt be facing a stressful period in your life as you prepare to defend yourself in court. The lawyers at Gardner & Burks are experienced and prepared in getting the best possible outcome under these circumstances.
In Virginia, a conviction of First Degree Murder must be proven by showing that the death of the victim occurred “by poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, or by any willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or in the commission of, or attempt to commit, arson, rape, forcible sodomy, inanimate or animate object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary or abduction.” Virginia Code Section 18.2-32. The general difference between First Degree Murder and either Second Degree Murder or Manslaughter is that First Degree Murder must involve “premeditation” that results in death. A conviction of First Degree Murder is punishable by life in prison.
Second Degree Murder is any killing done with malice or recklessness that shows a callous disregard for human life, but without premeditation or planning. The law in Virginia also allows a Second Degree Murder conviction when a defendant is engaged in felonious behavior that results in the accidental death of another person. This is commonly known as the “Felony Murder Rule.” For example, if a defendant breaks in to a person’s home with the intention to steal property, and kills an occupant of the home, the Felony Murder Rule could subject the defendant to a Second Degree Murder charge, even if the killing was unplanned or an accident. Second Degree Murder in Virginia carries a sentence of between 5 years and 40 years in prison, if convicted.
Manslaughter charges are broken down into two classes: Voluntary Manslaughter, and Involuntary Manslaughter. Voluntary Manslaughter is charged when there is an unlawful killing without malice. Examples of Voluntary Manslaughter include the historical “heat of passion” killing, such as when a defendant kills his spouse’s lover while finding them engaged in romantic acts, or when a killing results from a sudden fight or provocation.
Involuntary Manslaughter is generally charged when a death results from the defendant either performing an unlawful act which is not a felony, or when the defendant is improperly performing an otherwise lawful act. Examples of Involuntary Manslaughter might include a death which results from the reckless handling of a gun, or death that results from reckless driving. Both Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter are Class 5 Felonies, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
There are also laws that punish driving or boating “under the influence” as Aggravated Manslaughter. These laws apply when the operation of a motor vehicle or boat while “under the influence” caused a death, and the conduct or behavior of the defendant was so gross, wonton and culpable as to show reckless disregard for human life. If convicted of Aggravated Manslaughter, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 1 year in prison, with up to 20 years as a maximum punishment.