Homicide:  Murder & Manslaughter

Violent felony offenses in Virginia can be broken down into two main categories: those which involve a death and those which do not involve a death.  This will address several of Virginia’s violent crimes which do involve a death.  These offenses fall into two broad categories:  Murder and Manslaughter.

In Virginia, there are five classes of Homicide: (1) Capital Murder, (2) First Degree Murder, (3) Second Degree Murder, (4) Voluntary Manslaughter, and (5) Involuntary Manslaughter.  These various categories of criminal homicides include both intentional and accidental killings.  Capital Murder, the most serious homicide offense, is punishable by death, and Manslaughter, the least serious homicide offense, although still a felony, is punishable by imprisonment for as little as 10 years.

Manslaughter And Malice

Generally, the difference between murder and manslaughter is malice.  If a killing was not done with malice, it will likely rise no higher than manslaughter.  Malice is the intentional doing of a wrongful act against another.  Malice may stem from unlawful motives such as anger, hatred or revenge, or malice may be inferred from other circumstances.  However, proof that a killing was done in the heat of passion may negate malice.

Murder Defined By Virginia Law

In Virginia, murder (the killing of another with malice) is classified as Second Degree Murder.  The presence of certain aggravating factors elevates the offense to First Degree murder.  In Virginia, both intentional and accidental killings can qualify as First Degree Murder and the punishment includes the possibility of life in prison.  Just as the presence of certain aggravating factors elevates an offense from Second Degree Murder to First Degree Murder, the presence of additional aggravating factors further elevates an offense to Capital Murder, for which one can receive the death penalty.  Unlike First Degree Murders, in Virginia all Capital Murders are willful, deliberate and premeditated killings.

If you’ve been charged with Capital Murder, First or Second Degree Murder, Felony Homicide, Voluntary Manslaughter, Involuntary Manslaughter or any other Criminal Offense in Virginia, call The Wilson Law Firm and put our seasoned, experienced Criminal Defense Lawyers to work for you, immediately.  Toll free 877-CRIM-LWYR  or 703-361-6100.


Capital Murder:  (See Va. Code §18.2-31)

Capital Murder is the willful, deliberate and premeditated killing involving special circumstances set out in the Capital Murder Statute.


First Degree Murder:  (See Va. Code §18.2-32)

First Degree Murder is murder, other than capital murder, which falls into one of three categories:

  1. Willful, Deliberate, and Premeditated Killing Without the Special Circumstances Which Would Make it Capital Murder
  2. Accomplished by
    • Poison
    • Lying in Wait
    • Imprisonment
    • Starvation
  3. Done in the Commission of, or Attempt to Commit, Certain Violent Felonies including but not limited to the following: (also known as First Degree Felony Murder)
    • Arson
    • Rape, Sodomy, Object Sexual Penetration
    • Robbery
    • Burglary
    • Abduction 

Felony Murder is First Degree Murder and involves accidental or intentional killings during the commission of, or the attempt to commit, specific violent felonies.  On the other hand, Felony Homicide is punished as Second Degree Murder and involves accidental killings during commission of or attempt to commit less serious felony offenses.  (See Va. Code §18.2-33)  


Second Degree Murder:  (See Va. Code §18.2-32)

Murder is the unlawful killing of another with malice.  In Virginia, all murders which do not have aggravating circumstances to elevate the offense to either First Degree Murder or Capital Murder are Second Degree Murder.  In addition, Felony Homicide (the accidental killing of another during the commission of certain felony offenses) is punished as Second Degree Murder.  Even though Felony Homicides are accidental killings, the commission of the felony during which the killing occurred provides the malice necessary to make the offense a murder. 


Voluntary Manslaughter:  (See Va. Code §18.2-35)

Voluntary Manslaughter is an intentional, unlawful killing without malice.  It is tough to comprehend an intentional killing that is done without malice and the classic example is a killing done in the “heat of passion”.  The presence of “heat of passion” negates the malice required for Murder, thereby turning what would otherwise be Murder into Manslaughter.  To succeed with a “heat of passion” assertion, one will generally need proof of reasonable provocation without a cooling off period.  As you might expect, words alone are never sufficient provocation.  


Involuntary Manslaughter:  (See Va. Code §18.2-36)

Typically, Involuntary Manslaughter involves the accidental killing of another in the course of an unlawful but not felonious act, or from the reckless performance of a lawful act.  Usually, to rise to the level of involuntary manslaughter, performance of the lawful act must be so gross, wanton, and culpable that it shows a reckless disregard for human life. 


DUI-Manslaughter:  (See Va. Code §18.2-36.1)

Virginia also has a statute which specifically addresses and defines as Involuntary Manslaughter accidental killings which occur as a result of DUI / DWI.   In addition, the charge can be elevated to Aggravated Involuntary Manslaughter if the conduct of the accused demonstrates a reckless disregard for human life.    

If you have been charged with a Misdemeanor or Felony Criminal Offense in Virginia, or if you know someone who has, Call the Wilson Law Firm today and speak with a passionate, dedicated Northern Virginia Criminal Defense Lawyer.  877-CRIM-LWYR or 703-361-6100