Virginia Homicide Law

< VA Criminal Law

Virginia Homicide Attorneys

Homicide and related offenses, such as manslaughter, carry significant gravity in the Commonwealth of Virginia. If you find yourself under investigation or facing charges for homicide or a related crime, it is crucial to seek the guidance of an experienced Virginia homicide lawyer.

According to the 2010 Crime Report compiled by the Virginia State Police, homicide is essentially defined as the act of one person causing the death of another. There are three primary categories of homicide: murder/nonnegligent manslaughter, negligent manslaughter, and justifiable homicide. Murder/nonnegligent manslaughter refers to the intentional killing of one person by another without legal justification or excuse. Negligent manslaughter involves causing the death of a person due to negligence, excluding Vehicular Manslaughter. Justifiable homicide occurs when a peace officer or an individual lawfully kills another person in response to a criminal act committed by the perpetrator.

Virginia Homicide Laws

Title 18.2, Chapter 4 of the Virginia Code provides a comprehensive overview of “Crimes Against the Person,” which includes various degrees, methods, victims, and circumstances pertaining to potential homicide cases. This section also outlines the corresponding punishments and penalties for committing such offenses.

Section 18.2-30 categorizes murder and manslaughter as felonies, encompassing capital murder, first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter. Subsequent sections within the chapter delve into the specific types of victims and associated penalties for each, as well as the different scenarios where an individual or group may face homicide charges. If charged with a felony murder offense, the potential consequences can include a life sentence in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

According to the Virginia State Police’s report for the year 2010, an estimated 369 cases of murder or nonnegligent manslaughter were recorded in Virginia. Although this number saw a slight increase from the previous year, it represents a small portion of the overall annual count of violent crimes, which ranges between 17,000 and 19,000 incidents in the state. If you find yourself facing homicide charges, our firm’s Virginia homicide lawyers are available to discuss your specific circumstances and explore the options available to you.

Capital Murder

In § 18.2-31, a comprehensive definition of capital murder is provided, outlining the specific criteria that classify a killing as capital murder. Generally, capital murder refers to the intentional, deliberate, and premeditated killing of an individual. The section describes various situations in which a murder would be deemed capital, including:

  • Abduction with the intent to extort money
  • Acting as a contract killer
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Committing murder while already imprisoned
  • Involvement in organized crime
  • Killing a judge
  • Killing a pregnant woman
  • Killing witnesses involved in a criminal case
  • Multiple victims within a single incident or within a three-year period
  • Rape or attempted rape
  • Robbery or attempted robbery
  • The murder of a person aged 14 or younger by an individual aged 21 or older
  • Violations involving controlled substances

Additionally, according to Section 18.2-31, the killing of law enforcement officials, fire marshals, deputy or assistant fire marshals, auxiliary police officers, auxiliary deputy sheriffs, or any other law enforcement officer authorized to make felony arrests with the intent to obstruct their duties is considered capital murder.

Capital murder charges represent one of the most severe accusations one can face. In Virginia, capital murder carries the potential for the most severe penalty: death. Our experienced homicide defense lawyers in NoVa are prepared to support and guide you through the legal process, providing effective defense strategies to protect your rights.

First and Second Degree Murder

Section 18.2-32 provides a detailed description of first and second degree murder. In cases that do not meet the criteria for capital murder, the killing of one person by another is classified as either first or second degree murder. First degree murder occurs when the act is willful, deliberate, and premeditated. Examples of such situations include poisoning, lying in wait, imprisonment, and starvation. First degree murder can also occur in conjunction with arson, rape, sexual offense, robbery, abduction, or attempted commission of any of these offenses. This crime is considered a Class 2 felony, carrying severe penalties.

On the other hand, second degree murder encompasses all other murders that do not qualify as capital or first degree. Offenders convicted of second degree murder may face a prison sentence ranging from five to 40 years.

Murder of a Pregnant Woman

Section 18.2-32.1 specifies that when an individual intentionally kills a pregnant woman, even without prior planning, knowing about her pregnancy and intending to terminate it without a live birth, they can be sentenced to imprisonment for a period ranging from 10 to 40 years.

Murder of a Fetus or a Human Infant

The Virginia Code addresses the topic of both born and unborn babies in relation to homicide under § 18.2-32.2 and § 18.2-32.3. Willfully, deliberately, maliciously, and with premeditation causing the death of another person’s fetus is classified as a Class 2 felony. If the killing lacks premeditation, it is still considered a felony, carrying the potential for confinement in a state correctional facility for a period ranging from five to 40 years.

It is worth noting that a human infant may be recognized as a distinct and independent entity from its mother, regardless of the presence of an intact umbilical cord or an attached placenta.

Committing murder against an infant child is a grave offense, necessitating the expertise of skilled Virginia homicide attorneys to pursue the best possible outcome in such cases.

Accidental Murder

According to § 18.2-33, unintentional killing of a person, as a result of engaging in the commission of a non-murder felony, is categorized as second-degree murder. This offense carries a potential prison sentence ranging from five to 40 years. If you are facing charges related to accidental murder, it is advisable to consult with one of our experienced homicide attorneys in Virginia to discuss your case and explore the available legal options.


Under Virginia law, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter are classified as Class 5 felonies, as outlined in § 18.2-35 and § 18.2-36, respectively. The distinction between these two offenses lies in the intent behind the actions leading to the killing.

Voluntary manslaughter typically involves intentional actions, often arising from a heat-of-the-moment situation. On the other hand, involuntary manslaughter occurs when someone unintentionally causes the death of another person due to negligence or recklessness, such as in cases involving driving under the influence (DUI). 

Both voluntary and involuntary manslaughter carry potential penalties of up to 10 years of imprisonment and a fine of $2,500 upon conviction.

Mobbing and Lynching

Section § 18.2-38 defines a mob as a group of individuals who gather with the intention of committing acts of assault, battery, or other specific acts of violence without legal authority.

The act of lynching is defined in § 18.2-39 as an act of violence carried out by a mob against an individual, resulting in the death of that person. According to § 18.2-40, all instances of lynching are considered murder, holding every member of the mob accountable for their involvement.

Determining the exact participants in a mob or lynching can be complex in certain cases. If you are facing charges related to mob or lynching offenses, it is essential to discuss your defense options with a skilled NoVa homicide lawyer.

If a mob, collectively or through individual actions, uses firearms, knives, cutting instruments, or causes injury to physically harm, maim, disable, or disfigure a person, they will be charged with a Class 3 felony. Some instances of lesser assault or battery may be classified as misdemeanors. The provisions of the article also cover situations where an individual loses their life due to the actions of a mob, even if they were not the intended target. As per § 18.2-45, their representative will be treated in the same manner as if they were the intended victim of the mob.