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Virginia Murder Charges

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Homicide is defined as the unlawful taking of a human life.  In Virginia, homicide can be charged as murder, which is a more serious crime, or manslaughter, which carries lighter sentencing consequences.  Murder is defined as killing that is willful, deliberate, and premeditated.

Virginia law divides the crime of murder into three categories: 

  • Aggravated murder;
  • First-degree murder; and
  • Second-degree murder.

Aggravated murder

Virginia code section 18.2-31 provides that aggravated murder encompasses any willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing committed in the course of committing one or more of the following acts:

  • Abduction, if the abduction is performed with the intent to extort money or other pecuniary benefit, or to defile the victim;
  • Murder for hire;
  • Robbery or attempted robbery;
  • Rape, attempted rape, forcible sodomy, attempted forcible sodomy, or object sexual penetration;
  • Attempted or actual manufacture or distribution of schedule I or II drugs; and
  • Terrorism.

Virginia law also provides that it is aggravated murder if committed at the direction of another person engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise to manufacture or distribute schedule I or II drugs.

Virginia’s aggravated murder statute also enumerates several other circumstances which count as aggravated murder:

  • Murder of a law enforcement official;
  • Murder of more than one person as part of the same act or transaction;
  • Murder of more than one person within a single three-year period;
  • Murder of a pregnant woman, if the person committing the act knows that the woman is pregnant and intends to terminate her pregnancy;
  • Murder of a person under the age of 14, when the person committing the act is 21 years of age or older;
  • Murder of a judge, if committed with the intent of interfering with his or her judicial duties; and
  • Murder of a witness in any criminal case, if committed after a subpoena has been issued for the witness’s testimony and with the intention of interfering with the witness’s ability to testify in the case.

Aggravated murder is a class one felony, for which the only punishment is a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

First-degree murder

Virginia Code section 18.2-32 defines first-degree murder as any killing, other than aggravated murder, committed by any of the following means:

  • Poison;
  • Lying in wait;
  • Imprisonment;
  • Starving; and
  • Willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing.

It is also first-degree murder if the killing occurs in the commission or the attempted commission of the following offenses:

  • Arson;
  • Rape;
  • Forcible sodomy;
  • Animate or inanimate object sexual penetration;
  • Robbery;
  • Burglary; or
  • Abduction.

First-degree murder is a class two felony, which carries a minimum sentence of twenty years in prison.  The maximum sentence is life imprisonment and a court can also impose a fine of up to $100,000.

Second-degree murder

Second-degree murder is a catchall category for any murder that does not meet the requirements laid out in Virginia Code sections 18.2-31 or -32 for aggravated or first-degree murder.  It is also defined in Virginia Code section 18.2-32.

Second-degree murder carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years imprisonment and a possible maximum sentence of forty years.

Until July 1, 2021, Virginia law also contained the category of capital murder, which could result in a sentence of death.

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