When a person in Virginia is accused of murder, it is important that they understand exactly what they are facing. This is because, of all violent crimes, homicide may be considered by many to be the most serious, and thus, the most severely punished. However, under Virginia Code, there are different degrees of murder.
Capital murder is the most serious homicide crime in Virginia. If found guilty of capital murder, a person could face the death penalty. Murder of a police officer, multiple murders, murder of a child under age 14 by a person 21-years-old or older, murder related to a drug distribution offense or murder-by-hire are all examples of capital murder.
The second most serious homicide crime in Virginia is first-degree murder. If a person's death is caused by another person's willful, deliberate and premeditated act, and that act does not fall under the definition of capital murder, it is considered first-degree murder. Some examples are poisoning, lying in wait, imprisonment or starving the deceased. If a person dies due to another's commission or attempt to commit certain sex crimes, certain theft crimes, arson or abduction, this may also constitute first-degree murder.
All other homicide crimes are considered murder in the second degree. For example, murder that is committed in conjunction to a felony crime that does not fall under the definition of capital murder or first-degree murder is considered second-degree murder, even if the death is accidental.
As this shows, the degree of murder one is charged with greatly depends on the accused individual's alleged intent and the circumstances surrounding the case. No two murder cases are the same. Therefore, those accused of a homicide crime in Virginia will want to seek the legal advice needed to understand the charges they face, so they can make informed decisions regarding their defense.