Most of the time, murder is a state crime that is prosecuted in Virginia state court. However, there are some circumstances when murder is a federal crime that will be tried in federal court and subject to federal sentencing.
The Federal Crime of Murder
According to 18 U.S.C. §1111, “murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.” An individual may be charged with murder if the alleged killing violated federal law.
Some alleged murders are tried as federal crimes because of the victim’s identity. These crimes include the murder of a(n):
- Elected or appointed federal government official. These officials include members of the executive branch of government, such as the President, Vice-President, and cabinet members, members of the legislative branch, including United States representatives and senators, and members of the judicial branch, including Supreme Court justices.
- Federal judge or law enforcement officer. It is also a federal crime to murder a federal U.S. appeals court judge, district court judge, or law enforcement officer such as an F.B.I. officer, United States marshal, or D.E.A. agent.
- Immediate family member of a federal law enforcement officer. The murder of a close relative of a federal law enforcement officer is also a federal crime.
Other alleged murders are tried as federal crimes because of the circumstances in which they happened, such as:
- A murder committed to try to influence the outcome of a federal court case. This crime includes killing court officers and jurors. It also includes killing police informants and witnesses to prevent testimony or in retaliation for providing testimony.
- A murder committed during a bank robbery. Bank robberies are federal crimes. The United States government may pursue federal murder charges if someone such as a bank employee or customer is killed during a bank robbery.
- A murder related to rape, child molestation, or the sexual exploitation of children. Rape, sexual abuse, and sexual exploitation of minor children are federal crimes. Therefore, any murder committed during the occurrence of these crimes is a federal crime.
- Drug-related murders. Drug violence may be a federal crime and any murder that occurs may be tried as a federal murder.
Finally, some alleged murders are tried as federal crimes because of where they occurred. These crimes include:
- Murders on ships. United States maritime law makes it a federal crime to commit a murder on a ship or to commit a crime which results in someone’s death if that crime threatened the safe travel of the vessel within U.S. waters.
- Murders for hire. Interstate commerce is a federal issue. If the murder occurred by crossing state lines or using communication methods, including telephones, mail, or internet, then a murder for hire could be a federal murder crime.
- Murders by mail. Federal law prohibits using the postal service to send deadly agents, such as poisons or explosives.
Depending on the unique facts of the case, a federal murder may be tried as a first-degree murder case or a second-degree murder case. If the government convicts you of first-degree murder, you may face life in prison or the death penalty. The potential consequences for second-degree murder include many years in jail, up to life imprisonment.
A federal murder charge does not mean that you will be convicted of murder. Sometimes, the government gets it wrong. Some possible defenses include:
- The killing was an accident and you did not act with the intent to kill or to commit another federal crime (such as a bank robbery)
- You acted in self-defense
- You acted by reason of insanity
- You weren’t the one who committed the crime
An experienced Virginia murder defense lawyer will consider all possible defenses for you. Contact us for a free consultation as soon as you can so that we can begin gathering evidence, making sure your procedural and constitutional rights are protected, negotiating with federal prosecutors, and advising you on your legal options.