Discharging a firearm in a home or other building is a felony offense in Virginia and can result in serious punishments upon conviction. An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to help you build a strong defense that can result in the charges being dismissed or reduced to a less serious crime, depending on the facts of your case.
What Is a Firearm?
Under Virginia Code § 18.2-282, a firearm is any weapon that will, is designed to, or can readily be converted to expel a single or multiple projectiles by an explosion of combustible material. Ammunition is defined as a cartridge, pellet, ball, missile, or a projectile adapted to be used as a firearm.
What Is the Crime of Discharging a Firearm in a Building?
It is unlawful under Virginia Code § 18.2-279 for an individual to discharge a firearm within a building or dwelling house that is occupied by one or more persons in a manner as to endanger their lives. The circumstances surrounding the discharge of the weapon will determine whether a person is charged with a Class 4 or Class 6 felony. Here are the penalties for each:
- Class 4 felony. If the firing of the weapon was malicious and there was an intent to cause harm, a person can be charged with a Class 4 felony. The possible punishment includes a prison sentence of 2 to 10 years and a fine of up to $100,000.
- Class 6 felony. If the discharge of the firearm is unlawful but not committed with malice, the offense is a Class 6 felony. If convicted, a person can be sentenced to one to five years in prison. However, the judge or jury has the discretion to reduce the penalties to up to 12 months in jail and/or a $2,500 fine.
If someone dies due to the discharge of the firearm, the charges and penalties are more serious. They include:
- Involuntary manslaughter. If the killing was unlawful but without malice it is treated as involuntary manslaughter. A person can be sentenced to 1 to 10 years in prison. However, the penalty can be reduced to up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine in the judge’s or jury’s discretion.
- Second-degree murder. If the shooting was done maliciously and someone dies because of the discharge of the firearm in the building or home, the person can be charged with second-degree murder. The sentence can include 5 to 40 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
- First-degree murder. If the homicide is willful, deliberate, and premeditated, the offense can be charged as first-degree murder. If convicted, a person would be sentenced to up to life in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
Finally, Virginia Code § 18.2-279 makes it a class 4 felony to willfully discharge a firearm within or to shoot at any school building, whether or not it is occupied.
The dedicated and skilled criminal defense attorneys at Greenspun Shapiro PC understand the long-term consequences a criminal conviction can have on a person’s life and are committed to mounting a strong defense to the charges our clients face so that they can achieve the best possible outcome. To learn how we can assist you, call our office to schedule a free consultation today.