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Virginia Homicide Attorneys

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Homicide Attorneys

Homicide is the taking of another person’s life.  Virginia law criminalizes different types of homicide, including murder, manslaughter, and felony homicide, and further differentiates between different types of these acts.

Aggravated murder

Aggravated murder is a class 1 felony in Virginia.  Following the abolition of the death penalty, this is the highest classification of felony and results in a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole, good time credit, or conditional release.

The aggravated murder statute, section 18.2-31, lists 15 types of “willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing” that qualify as aggravated murder:

  1. In the commission of abduction with the intent to commit extortion or to defile the person abducted;
  2. For hire;
  3. By a prisoner or while in custody of a correctional facility employee;
  4. In the commission of robbery or attempted robbery;
  5. In the commission of or subsequent to rape, attempted rape, forcible sodomy, attempted forcible sodomy, or object sexual penetration;
  6. Of a law enforcement officer or certain other government officials with the purpose of interfering with their official duties;
  7. Of more than one person as part of the same act or transaction;
  8. Of more than one person within a three-year period;
  9. In the process or attempted process of manufacturing, selling, giving, or distribution, or possession with intent, of a schedule I or II controlled substance, in the furtherance of that act;
  10. At the direction of someone engaged in a criminal enterprise;
  11. Of a pregnant woman by a person who knows the woman is pregnant and intends to involuntarily terminate the woman’s pregnancy without a live birth;
  12. Of a person under age 14 by a person age 21 or older;
  13. In the commission or attempted commission of an act of terrorism;
  14. Of a judge, with the intent to interfere with their official duties; or
  15. Of a witness in a criminal case after a subpoena has been issued, for the purpose of interfering with the person’s testimony in the case.

First-degree murder

First-degree murder, codified in Virginia Code section 18.2-32, encompasses any killing (other than aggravated murder) 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, object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary, or abduction.  This is a class 2 felony, punishable by 20 years to life in prison and, potentially, a fine of up to $100,000.

Second-degree murder

Second-degree murder is found in the same code section as first-degree murder (18.2-32) and encompasses all murders other than aggravated and first degree murder.  It is punished by imprisonment for five to forty years.

Voluntary manslaughter

The Virginia Code does not contain any law that defines voluntary manslaughter, yet it does state that it is a class 5 felony, which means that it is punished by one to ten years imprisonment or up to twelve months and a fine of up to $2,500.

In case law, the courts have explained what counts as voluntary manslaughter.  If the killing is an intentional act committed while in the “sudden heat of passion upon reasonable provocation,” for example, a person can be found guilty of voluntary manslaughter.  Smith v. Commonwealth, 68 Va. App. 399, 408-9 (2018).

Voluntary manslaughter is a lesser included offense to second-degree murder.  The Virginia Court of Appeals has said that trial courts “must instruct the jury on the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter if the evidence of heat of passion and reasonable provocation amounts to ‘more than a scintilla.’” Turner v. Commonwealth, 23 Va. App. 270, 275 (1996).

Involuntary manslaughter

Virginia Code section 18.2-36.1 describes involuntary manslaughter in two different ways.  Paragraph A states that a person driving under the influence who causes the death of another is guilty of involuntary manslaughter.  

Paragraph B states that aggravated involuntary manslaughter also encompasses any instance in which the conduct of a defendant was “so gross, wanton and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life.”  An offense under this paragraph is punished by one to 20 years, of which one year is a mandatory minimum.

Felony homicide

This crime is found in Virginia Code section 18.2-33.  A person is guilty of felony homicide when they kill another person accidentally in the course of a felony other than the ones described in the first and second-degree murder statutes. It may be punished by imprisonment for five to forty years.

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