A murder is probably the most serious criminal offense a person in Hampton Roads can commit. Unlike felony criminal attorneys who must defend their clients against prison and fines, the facts surrounding a victim's death could put Virginia murder attorneys into a position of defending a person from being put to death.
The criminal defense team at The Law Offices of John W. Lee, P.C., is composed of seasoned attorneys capable of putting their legal knowledge and criminal trial experience to the task of providing an aggressive and innovative defense for someone accused of manslaughter.
Homicide is the taking of a human life, but the circumstances under which it happened will determine whether a person should be prosecuted for one of the three classifications of murder that exist under Virginia law: Capital murder, first-degree murder or second-degree murder. The evidence uncovered through a thorough investigation of a particular homicide is essential when felony criminal lawyers are defending someone charged in connection with a homicide because the evidence might show it to be either voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, which usually have penalties associated with them that are less severe than for conviction of committing a murder.
Capital Murder and the Death Penalty
The willful, premeditated and deliberate killing of a person is the Class 1 felony of capital murder as provided in Va. Code Ann. §18.2-31 when it is committed in connection with any of the following:
- An abduction committed to extort money or other financial benefit
- Murder for hire or contract killings
- When the accused is a prisoner in a state prison or local correctional facility
- During a robbery or attempted robbery
- During a rape, attempted rape or forcible sodomy
- When the victim is a law enforcement officer
- When there are multiple victims
- During the commission of certain drug offenses
- When the victim is pregnant and the intent was to cause the termination of the pregnancy
- Death of a person under 14 years of age when the accused is at least 21 years of age
- During the commission or attempted commission of acts of terrorism
The death penalty can be imposed upon someone convicted of violating Va. Code Ann. §18.2-31. As an alternative to the death penalty, an individual could be sentenced to life imprisonment and fines up to $100,000. Offenders under 18 years of age are not subject to the death penalty as a sentencing option.
First-degree Murder and Second-degree Murder
Murder in the first degree is defined in Va. Code Ann. §18.2-32 as any murder, other than one fitting the definition of a capital murder, in which one or more of the following elements was present:
- Imprisonment of the Victim
There are similarities between the capital murder and first-degree murder statutes, but what distinguishes them is the lack of evidence needed by prosecutors of premeditation or deliberateness to convict someone of committing murder in the first degree. Willful, deliberate and premeditated are essential elements for a capital murder prosecution, so felony criminal attorneys can challenge murder charges in which these elements are missing.
Murder in the first degree is punishable as Class 2 felony. The sentence can include a period of confinement in prison for from 20 years to life and a fine not exceeding $100,000. Virginia murder attorneys spend considerable time reviewing and analyzing the facts and evidence to determine if a successful defense challenge could get the charges reduced to second-degree murder.
Any murder not fitting within the definition of capital murder or first-degree murder is classified as a second-degree murder. Murder in the second degree includes death caused by extreme recklessness. Unlike capital murder and first-degree murder, the intent to kill the victim is not a necessary element of the crime.
Felony murder is classified as a form of second-degree murder in Va. Code Ann. §18.2-33 involving the accidental killing of a victim while committing a felony other than one of those specified in Code §18.2-31 and §18.2-32. As with other forms of murder in the second degree, felony murder is punishable by confinement for a minimum of five years up to a maximum of 40 years in prison and a fine not exceeding $100,000.
Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter
When there is a lack of evidence proving that a person in Newport News caused someone else's death without premeditation or malice, Virginia classifies it as voluntary manslaughter. Courts have defined voluntary manslaughter as intentionally causing a death in the heat of passion brought about through some type of extreme provocation. Virginia manslaughter lawyers must be familiar with the most current court decisions when defending individuals charged with voluntary manslaughter.
Involuntary manslaughter, on the other hand, can be charged when a death occurs unintentionally but under circumstances specified in Va. Code Ann. §18.2-36.1. For example, the driver of a motor vehicle involved in an accident in which another party is killed could be in need of a DUI manslaughter attorney. The law provides that a death caused by a person who is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in violation of Va. Code Ann. §18.2-266 could be the basis for an involuntary manslaughter charge against the driver even though the accident and death were unintentional. DUI involuntary manslaughter is a Class 5 felony punishable by from 1 to 10 years in prison, but judges have discretion to sentence a person to 12 months in jail and fines up to $2,500.
Va. Code Ann. §18.2-36.1 also permits the filing of aggravated involuntary manslaughter charges against someone who engages in wanton, culpable and gross conduct demonstrating a reckless disregard for life that takes the life of another person. Aggravated involuntary manslaughter is punishable by a prison sentence of from 1 to 20 years.
Using Self-defense to Defend Against Murder and Manslaughter Charges
It is possible that an individual charged with causing the death of another person did so while defending against an attack by the victim. A person has the right to use reasonable force to repel an attack. A factor in determining whether the force used was reasonable under the circumstances will depend upon the actions of the attacker. For example, shooting someone who was yelling threats without displaying a weapon would probably be excessive force, but if the individual was brandishing a knife and lunged at the person with the gun, it could be self-defense.
Besides using reasonable force, a person claiming self-defense to justify killing someone must be reacting to an immediate and actual threat. If two men are arguing over a parking space and one of them pulls out a gun, the other person might be justified in responding to the threat by drawing his own gun and firing. However, if the person who first took out a gun puts it away and begins to leave, it would not be self-defense for the person who was threatened to follow the individual and shoot him because the threat had ended.
Virginia Manslaughter Lawyers Can Help
Anyone under investigation or charged with murder or manslaughter in Chesapeake, Virginia Beach or other nearby communities needs the skilled representation of the Virginia murder attorneys at The Law Offices of John W. Lee, P.C.
Individuals involved in a motor vehicle accident in which someone was killed should arrange to speak to our DUI manslaughter attorney if drugs or alcohol were involved in causing the accident.
We have four convenient Hampton Roads locations in Virginia Beach, Hampton, Chesapeake and Newport News servicing the surrounding cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Smithfield, Poquoson and Williamsburg and the York, James City and Gloucester counties. Call today at (757) 896-0868 to schedule a free and confidential initial consultation.