If you are being investigated for or charged with a crime of murder, you are facing one of the most serious criminal charges in Virginia. You could be sentenced to prison for the rest of your life or receive the death penalty. Even if you have not been charged yet, you want to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney who can guide you through the criminal process and help you build a strong defense. Everything—both your life and freedom—is at stake if you are charged with murder, so you will want the assistance of an attorney to help protect yourself.
What Murder Charges Could You Face?
Murder is defined in general as the intentional causing of the death of someone with malice aforethought. Even if the accused intended to kill someone other than the person who died, he can be charged with murder. The major murder charges you could face include:
- Capital murder
- First-degree murder
- Second-degree murder
- Felony murder
In addition, there are less serious non-murder charges—such as voluntary and involuntary manslaughter—if the accused person caused the death of someone, but the circumstances of the crime were less serious or there was no premeditation.
What Is Capital Murder?
Capital murder is the most serious type of murder charge you can face. Basically, for any of the crimes that fall under capital murder, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of another person. The capital murder statute adds to the basic definition of capital murder 15 different offenses that can elevate a murder charge to a capital offense. Some of these include the following:
- Killing someone as part of an abduction or kidnapping where the intent of the kidnapping was to extract money or defile the abductor.
- Hiring a person to kill someone, and the victim is successfully killed.
- Killing someone during an armed robbery or an attempted armed robbery.
- Killing someone during or after a rape, forcible sodomy, object sexual penetration, or attempting any of these crimes.
- Killing more than one person in a single act or two or more people within a three-year period.
- Killing a police officer or a firefighter acting with police powers when the killing was to stop the officer from performing his official duties
When Could You Face First-Degree Murder Charges?
First-degree murder charges are very similar to capital murder charges, but involves situations not covered by capital murder. Examples of when a person can be charged with first-degree murder include:
- The killing was done by poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, or starving.
- The killing was premeditated, deliberate, and intentional.
- The killing occurred while committing or attempting to commit these crimes: arson, rape, forcible sodomy, object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary, or abduction.
When first degree murder and capital murder both require a deliberate, intentional, premeditated act, the circumstances of the murder define how the alleged offense will be charged.
Second-Degree Murder and Felony Murder Charges
Virginia law defines second-degree murder as all murders other than capital murder and first-degree murder. Generally, to be charged with this crime, it must be shown that:
- The murder was committed in the heat of the moment, without premeditation or other planning, but with malice.
- Malice is a major element of this crime. It can be many things, such as intending to injure or kill someone, having malice toward someone, but not intending to kill him, or being extremely reckless.
Felony murder is a murder that is committed while someone is committing a felony offense other than the felonies listed in the capital or first degree statute. Felony murder is often charged and sentenced as second-degree murder.
What Are the Penalties If Convicted of Murder?
The sentences you could face if convicted of murder are very serious and almost always involve a felony conviction and a prison sentence. You could be sentenced as follows:
- Capital murder. The sentence for capital murder is death or life in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. If the person convicted is under 18 years old or has mental disabilities, he faces life in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
- First-degree murder. A person convicted of first-degree murder could be sentenced to 20 years to life in prison and a fine not exceeding $100,000.
- Second-degree murder. A second-degree murder sentence is 5 to 40 years in prison.
- Felony murder. The sentence for conviction of this crime is the same as second-degree murder.
Contact Our Experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys If You Are Charged With Any Murder Charge
If you are facing a murder charge, you do not want to delay hiring a criminal defense attorney—even if you think you are guilty. There could be many constitutional, procedural, and other defenses that could result in the charges against you being dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense.
The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Greenspun Shapiro PC have helped many clients facing murder and other serious felony charges. We will work hard to investigate your case, pursue all of your defenses, and negotiate a plea agreement for you if that is in your best interests. If you are facing a murder charge, call us today to schedule a free consultation to learn how we can help you.