Intentionally taking someone else’s life is the single most serious criminal offense anyone in Virginia can be charged with and, by association, the one with the highest stakes attached. Even though capital punishment is no longer enforced in the Commonwealth as of 2021, a conviction for murder in the first degree can still be punishable by a maximum term of life imprisonment, along with mandatory minimum sentences lasting for multiple decades.
Like anyone else accused of any other criminal act, you have important rights when facing murder charges that a capable defense attorney could help you proactively enforce. Let an experienced Virginia first-degree murder lawyer work tenaciously to ensure your case has the best possible outcome.
In general, anyone who commits a “willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing” may be charged with first-degree murder under the Code of Virginia § 18.2-32. Per this same statute, killing someone else through poisoning, imprisonment, starvation, or lying in wait for them also qualifies as first-degree murder, as does killing someone else during the attempted or actual commission of arson or burglary. Notably, various circumstances may enhance a murder charge in Virginia from first-degree murder to aggravated murder, defined under VA Code § 18.2-31, as a qualified attorney could further explain.
Murder in the first degree is categorized as a Class 2 felony, which means someone convicted of this offense would be subject to a mandatory minimum term of 20 years in state prison up to a maximum term of life imprisonment and a maximum fine of $100,000. Unlike aggravated murder charges, someone found guilty of first-degree murder may eventually be eligible for parole and may receive earned sentence credits or good conduct allowances. They may also be eligible for conditional release if they become terminally ill or reach an advanced age.
The primary factor differentiating first-degree murder from the comparatively less severe charge of second-degree murder is “premeditation.” Premeditation is a plan made by a defendant in advance to carry out the murder with full knowledge of their actions. Someone who willfully and deliberately kills someone else with specific malicious intent may still be charged with and convicted of second-degree murder, but if they did not plan their actions out in advance, they likely could not be found guilty of murder in the first degree.
Depending on the circumstances, the best approach for a particular defendant may be establishing that their actions do not rise to the level of first-degree murder as defined under state law or contesting the prosecution’s assertion that the defendant committed any murder at all. A knowledgeable defense attorney could offer further guidance about how to address a particular first-degree murder allegation in Virginia during a confidential consultation.
First-degree murder convictions carry some of the harshest sanctions allowed under Virginia law, up to and including life behind bars. This sort of charge is not something anyone should try to handle by themselves or without retaining seasoned legal counsel who has experience handling this specific type of case effectively in the past.
A private conversation with a Virginia first-degree murder lawyer could provide crucial information about your rights and possible next steps. Call today to schedule a meeting.
Patrick Woolley Attorney At Law