Wooden Gavel With the Words Murder on the SideSecond-degree murder is a very serious crime in the Commonwealth of Virginia, even though the consequences of a conviction are not as severe as for capital murder or first-degree murder. You can face decades in prison if convicted. In addition, once you serve your sentence, you will have a permanent criminal record.

If you are being investigated for or have been charged with second-degree murder, you need the assistance of a skilled criminal defense attorney who is experienced in murder defense to mount a strong defense on your behalf. Having a strong defense may result in the charges being dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense that does not carry the severe penalties of second-degree murder.

What Is Second-Degree Murder?

Under Virginia Code § 18.2-32, second-degree murder is defined as all murders other than capital murder and first-degree murder. To understand when a person can be charged with this crime, it can be helpful to know what it is not.

What Are Capital Murder and First-Degree Murder?

Capital murder is a Class 1 felony and is the willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of another person. Under Virginia Code § 18.2-31, there are more than a dozen circumstances where the murder crime can be elevated from first-degree murder to capital murder. They include:

  • Killing a woman who is known to be pregnant
  • Killing a child who is under 14 years old
  • Committing a murder for hire
  • Killing an individual while committing or attempting to commit the crimes of robbery, rape, or the manufacture, sale, or distribution of a Schedule I or II drug
  • Killing a witness to prevent him from testifying
  • Killing a law enforcement officer or firefighter while they are performing their job

If convicted, a person can face the harshest penalties—the death sentence or life in prison—as well as a fine of up to $100,000.

Virginia Code § 18.2-32 defines first-degree murder as murders other than capital murder that include one of the following:

  • Murder by poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, or starvation
  • Any willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing
  • Any murder while committing or attempting to commit arson, rape, forcible sodomy, inanimate or animate object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary, or abduction

First-degree murder is a Class 2 felony, and the punishments include 20 years to life in prison and a fine not to exceed $100,000.

Second-Degree Murder Requires Malice

In general, a person can be charged with second-degree murder when the killing was committed intentionally, with malice. 

There is no one action that constitutes malice. Malice can involve the intention to injure or kill an individual, but this intent is not required. A person can act with extreme recklessness or the knowledge that the actions have a high risk of causing death and not care and be found to have acted with malice.

What Are the Penalties for Second-Degree Murder?

If convicted of second-degree murder, you can be sentenced to 5 to 40 years in prison. You may also be ordered to pay a fine of up to $100,000. In addition, you will have a permanent criminal record and the stigma of being a felon. Being labeled a felon can make it much more difficult for you to find a job, housing, and much more for the rest of your life.

Contact Our Experienced Legal Team for a Strong Defense

If you have been arrested for second-degree murder, your situation is not hopeless. Even if you believe you are guilty, you may have strong defenses that can result in the charges being dismissed or reduced to a much less serious misdemeanor or felony offense.

Our Fairfax criminal defense lawyers have extensive experience and a track record of success in presenting a vigorous defense to murder and other serious felony charges on behalf our clients in Fairfax, Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. To learn more about how we can assist you, start a live chat or call our Fairfax office to schedule a free consultation today.