If you are suspected of involvement in an altercation resulted in the death of another person in Virginia, there is a strong possibility that you will face a serious criminal offense. Whenever a person is killed, the facts and circumstances surrounding the death can lead to a number of different charges. In Virginia, charges for crimes of homicide may include different levels of murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter or DWI manslaughter. You should consult with an experienced Virginia homicide lawyer soon if you have been arrested for any crime of homicide. In some cases, even the least serious crimes may result in long-term imprisonment. However, an increase in a homicide offense further increases prison time.
Most homicide cases proceed to trial because both the defense and prosecution have a tremendous amount at stake. Therefore, you will want a Virginia homicide lawyer who is not only familiar with state laws, but one with extensive trial experience. This can help you have confidence that your attorney is ready to fight to protect your rights in court.
Virginia Homicide Lawyers Handle Murder Cases
In general, the legal definition of murder is intentionally causing the death of another person with malice aforethought. The act can be towards one person but if another person falls victim to the crime, the actor can still be charged under the doctrine of transferred intent.
Moreover, a person may engage in reckless conduct that increases the risk of death and ultimately causes another person to die. Acts of “felony murder” may also occur during the commission of another crime such as kidnapping, arson, robbery, rape or burglary.
Proof that the victim has died and that the death resulted from a wound from the accused leads to murder charges. Other proof elements can vary based on the type of charge committed.
Second Degree Murder
In the Commonwealth of Virginia, second degree murder charges, according to VA Code Section 18.2-32 is unlawfully killing another person with malice forethought. Proving intent is not required for a second degree murder charge; behavior that is deemed extreme recklessness is sufficient. A person may receive between five and 40 years in prison from a guilty verdict of second degree murder.
First Degree Murder
Murder charges may elevate to first degree when a person uses poison, lays in wait, starves or imprison his or her victim. Basically, behavior that is deliberate or premeditated and causes a person’s death receives a Class 2 felony first degree murder charge. Punishment for this crime may receive a sentence 20 years to life plus a fine up to $100,000.
Va. Code 18.2-31 describes capital murder as a Class 1 felony where the killing of a person was willful, deliberate and premeditated. The act includes, but is not limited to, murder-for-hire, abduction, during the commission of a robbery or rape. Killing a public service official such as a fire marshal or a law enforcement officer may also receive capital murder charges. The accused may receive life in prison or a death sentence. Like first degree murder, the fine for capital murder is up to $100,000.
When a death occurs while one person is committing another felony in Virginia, he or she could face felony murder charges. The underlying felony committed may lead to a felony murder charge of either first or second degree. For example, arson, robbery, burglary, abduction, rape, sexual penetration from an inanimate or animate object, or forcible sodomy will lead to a first degree murder charge.
Virginia Homicide Lawyers Also Handle Voluntary Manslaughter
The state of Virginia considers unlawful killing of another where no malice was found to be voluntary manslaughter. Typically, this type of murder occurs during the heat of passion where the accused reacts to some form of provocation. The death was intentionally caused in voluntary manslaughter. However, malicious intent did not cause the death.
Other circumstances may result in voluntary manslaughter charges. Generally, voluntary manslaughter is classified as a Class 5 felony that carries a $2,500 fine and up to 10 years in prison.
What is Involuntary Manslaughter in Virginia?
On the other hand, involuntary manslaughter under Va. Code 18.2-36 is accidentally killing someone during an unlawful act or improperly performing a lawful act. The latter is classified as criminal negligence such as handling a firearm recklessly and another person dies. Involuntary manslaughter has the same penalties as voluntary manslaughter with a fine of $2,500 and a prison sentence up to 10 years.
There are other forms of involuntary manslaughter that may result in criminal charges. A person may cause the death of another by throwing missiles or shooting at an automobile or train. Discharging a firearm within a house or other building is another example. Obstructing a railroad, power line or canal is also cause for involuntary manslaughter when a person dies.
Driving under the influence or while intoxicated is a crime in Virginia. The charges are compounded when another person is killed from a person’s reckless disregard for human life. Virginia’s Va. Code 18.2-36.1 defines a special form of manslaughter under these circumstances.
Technically, any person that drives under the influence and unintentionally causes another person’s death receives a charge of DWI manslaughter, which is also classified as involuntary manslaughter. Gross or wanton behavior that disregards human life may lead to aggravated involuntary vehicular manslaughter. This charge includes a minimum mandatory one year sentence with as much as 20 years in prison.
Contact an Experienced Homicide Lawyer
Being accused of murder is a serious crime that requires serious commitment from an attorney. Whether or not your situation leads to a trial, the focus should be on establishing facts. Following the right procedure regarding the technical aspects of your case is essential. Therefore, you want a homicide lawyer who knows Virginia statutes.
If you or someone you know has been arrested and is facing murder charges, contact an experienced homicide attorney in Virginia as soon as possible. The best defense can be built early into the investigation process. Even if you are under criminal investigation, legal representation can help to ensure your legal rights are not violated.