First-degree murder is at the top of the list of the most serious crimes a person can be convicted of in Virginia. The penalties are extremely harsh—decades to life in prison and large fines. If you have been charged with first-degree murder, your life as you know it is at risk. It is essential to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately to help you mount a strong defense so that you can achieve the best possible outcome given your circumstances.
Three Major Murder Offenses Under Virginia Law
Murder offenses are felony crimes in Virginia. There are a number of different crimes that an individual can be charged with if he kills someone. Three common ones that are also some of the most serious murder crimes include:
- Capital murder. To be convicted of capital murder, the murder must have been willful, premeditated, and intentional and have been committed under specific circumstances, such as while abducting someone, acting as a hired killer, or in the commission of robbery or attempted robbery, under Virginia law.
- First-degree murder. First-degree murder can be charged when a killing does not meet the requirements for a conviction for capital murder and other elements of the crime are established as discussed below.
- Second-degree murder. Murders that are not considered capital murder or first-degree murder can be defined as second-degree murder under the Commonwealth’s laws.
What Is First-Degree Murder Under Virginia Law?
Under Virginia Code § 18.2-32, first-degree murder is defined as murder other than capital murder. In addition, the murder must have been committed under one of these circumstances:
- The killing was committed in specific ways stated in Virginia Code § 18.2-32. These include poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, or starvation.
- The murder was committed in the commission of or the attempt to commit arson, rape, forcible sodomy, inanimate or animate object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary, or abduction.
- The killing was willful, deliberate, and premeditated.
What Are the Penalties for First-Degree Murder?
First-degree murder is a Class 2 felony. If convicted, a person can be sentenced to up to life in prison and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine.
How Does First-Degree Murder Differ From Capital Murder?
First-degree murder is a similar crime to capital murder. However, unlike capital murder, the killing does not have to be willful, deliberate, and premeditated if it was committed in the specific ways or in the commission of or attempt to commit certain crimes that are listed in Virginia Code § 18.2-32. For a person to be convicted of capital murder, the killing must be willful, deliberate, and premeditated even if the killing involves the commission of other crimes.
What Is the Crime of Attempted Murder?
Attempted murder is the unsuccessful attempt to kill another person where a direct action was taken to murder the victim and the actions were intended to result in his murder. Attempted capital murder is a Class 2 felony that can result in a punishment of 20 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Attempted first-degree murder is a Class 4 felony. The sentence can include a prison sentence of 2 to 10 years and a fine not to exceed $100,000.
Our Experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help You Build a Strong Defense
If you have been charged with first-degree murder, it is important to understand that you may have strong defenses to the charges that you face—even if you believe that you are guilty of the crime. Self-defense, defense of another person, and accidental murder are a few of the defenses that may apply to your situation.
In addition, you have strong constitutional protections that may have been violated in your arrest. For example, crucial evidence against you may have been obtained through an unlawful search and seizure. By raising this defense, you may prevent the prosecutor from using this evidence against you. This can significantly weaken the Commonwealth’s case against you and may result in the charges against you being dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense.
You need a lawyer experienced in murder defense if you want to mount a successful defense to the murder charges you face. The skilled attorneys at Greenspun Shapiro PC have decades of experience defending clients charged with capital murder, first-degree murder, and other murder crimes. We will aggressively fight to obtain the best possible outcome for you. To learn more about our extensive experience in these cases and how we can assist you, call our Fairfax office to schedule your free consultation today. We represent clients in Fairfax and throughout Northern Virginia.