What is Considered Capital Murder in Virginia?

Virginia abolished capital murder in 2021. All charges that were listed as capital murder were renamed Aggravated Murder. These crimes remain some of the most serious in Virginia, and still require an experienced criminal attorney. No changes were made to first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, and all are felony crimes in the state of Virginia. Unlike many other state jurisdictions, manslaughter is still considered a common law crime in Virginia. Most all murder charges are listed under Title 18.2, Chapter 4 in Virginia law.

One important distinction is the difference between state and federal charges. Capital Murder still exists under federal law. So it is still possible to be charged with Capital Murder under applicable federal law in the federal courts in Virginia. It, too, is one of the most serious charges under federal law. If you are charged with capital murder in federal court, you need to retain an experienced criminal attorney as soon as possible.

Aggravated Murder (formerly Capital murder) is a Class 1 felony under Virginia law. This type of murder stems from the act of willful, premeditated, and intentional actions that were committed under specific circumstances to bring about the end of another person’s life.

In Virginia, Aggravated murder applies to the following situations:

  • Being at least 21 years old and killing a person younger than age 14.
  • Death caused during a robbery or attempted robbery.
  • Killing a witness in a court case after the witness has received a subpoena to appear.
  • Killing another person while committing or attempting an act of terrorism.
  • Killing another person while under the express orders of a third party who is engaged in a criminal enterprise or other illegal venture.
  • Murder committed as a paid hitman or assassin.
  • Murder committed during an abduction with the plan to extort money or otherwise the file via abductee.
  • Murder resulting from rape and other types of sexual assault.
  • Murder while incarcerated in a state or local correctional facility.
  • Murdering a judge to prevent them from fulfilling their legal duties.
  • Murdering a pregnant woman while aware of the pregnancy for the purpose of causing an involuntary termination of the victim’s pregnancy.
  • The killing of a law enforcement police officer, fire marshal, auxiliary police officer, or deputy sheriff in order to prevent them from fulfilling their law enforcement duties.
  • The killing of another individual while in the act of committing or attempting to commit a violation of specific types of controlled substances and with the objective of committing a crime.
  • The killing of more than one person in a single criminal act or the killing of multiple people within a three-year time period.

Those convicted of Aggravated Murder in Virginia shall face serious penalties, which may include a mandatory life sentence in prison. Additionally, those convicted of capital murder crimes may face fines of up to $100,000.

If you are involved in an Aggravated Murder (formerly Capital murder) case, it is vitally important that you retain professional legal representation from experienced criminal defense attorneys. Our law firm has years of experience representing clients with complex criminal legal matters, including capital murder charges. Please contact us to schedule an in-depth case evaluation with our highly skilled and motivated legal team.

What is First-Degree Murder in VA?

Murder in the first degree is a Class 2 felony. First-degree murder charges can be filed against the accused when the killing does not meet the requirements for an aggravated murder charge. Under Virginia law, first-degree murder is defined as murder other than aggravated murder.

Additionally, the following criteria must be met in order for the murder to be considered first-degree murder under Virginia law:

  • The murder was committed by poisoning, imprisoning, lying in wait to attack, or starving a victim.
  • The murder was committed while committing or attempting to commit abduction, burglary, arson, robbery, forcible sodomy, or using a foreign object for sexual penetration.
  • The murder was willful, premeditated, and deliberate.

If convicted of murder in the first degree, the accused could be sentenced to life in prison and required to pay fines up to $100,000.

How Does Aggravated Murder Differ from First-Degree Murder?

Aggravated murder and first-degree murder are similar in many ways. The specific list of what is Aggravated Murder is the defining difference between it and First Degree Murder. Both require a killing that is willful, deliberate and premeditated for many of the specific acts, but First Degree Murder does not specifically require that for murder by poison, lying in waive, imprisonment or starving.

In order to secure an aggravated murder conviction, many of the specific listed crimes require the prosecutor to prove that the killing was deliberate, intentional, and premeditated and the murder occurred in the context of committing another criminal offense. Pre-planning the murder for a specific amount of time before doing it is not necessarily a prerequisite, as premeditation can occur mere seconds prior to the murder itself. If the prosecution is unable to prove deliberate intent and premeditation, they may only be able to pursue first or second-degree murder charges in Virginia.

What is Second-Degree Murder?

Any murder that does not rise to the level of aggravated murder or first-degree murder criteria shall be charged as murder in the second degree in the state of Virginia. Second-degree murder cases often involve attempted murders and killings that were done in the heat of the moment with no pre-planning or premeditation.

If convicted of murder in the second degree, the defendant could face between five to 40 years in prison, as well as a maximum fine of up to $100,000.

What is Felony Murder?

If you purposely or accidentally kill someone in the act of committing another felony, that killing could be considered murder.

The act of accidentally killing someone while in the process of committing a separate felony is punishable as second-degree murder, for which a person could be sentenced up to 40 years in prison.

What is Manslaughter?

Virginia recognizes both voluntary and involuntary manslaughter under the law. Both crimes are class 5 penalties unless there are other circumstances tacked on to the crimes. Manslaughter does not require intent.

Penalties for manslaughter could include up to a decade in prison and fines of up to $2,500. If aggravating circumstances apply, these penalties increase to up to twenty years in prison.

Contact Us for a Confidential Consultation Today

If you are facing murder charges in Virginia, whether they are aggravated murder or first-degree murder charges, it is essential that you retain professional legal representation experience in handling such criminal cases. Our law offices have years of experience representing clients charged with all sorts of murder cases. We pride ourselves on providing respectful and honest legal counsel to our clients, and we would be proud to represent your legal defense both in and out of Virginia courtrooms.

To discuss your case in more detail and learn the benefits of retaining our legal services, please contact our Roanoke, Virginia, law office to schedule your initial consultation today. You may contact us at (540)-384-4585.