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Virginia First Degree Murder Laws and Sentences

First-degree murder is one type of homicide in Virginia. Other types of homicide include capital murder, second-degree murder, and involuntary and voluntary manslaughter. One way to recognize what type of murder is classified as first-degree murder is to distinguish it from the other categories of murder in the state.

First Degree Murder vs. Capital Murder

Virginia classifies certain murders that have special circumstances as "capital murder." This includes scenarios such as murder for hire, multiple murders, or murder by prisoners. The capital murder offenses must be willful, deliberate, and premeditated even when the killing involves committing a different crime. This is not true for first-degree murder, which encompasses accidental as well as intentional killings. Because the types of murder vary, the penalties differ as well. A first-degree murder sentence is less harsh than it is for capital murder, which carries the possibility of the death penalty (hence the term "capital punishment").

Virginia First Degree Murder Laws and Sentences at a Glance

Reading the full text of a statute is important, but reading an abridged plain language version of the content can be even more valuable and efficient for a legal novice. See the chart below for a quick reference to understanding the first-degree murder laws and sentences in Virginia.


  • Va. Code Ann. Section 18.2-32 (murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree definition)

Elements of the Crime

In Virginia, first-degree murder (excluding capital murder) is classified into the following categories:

  • Willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing (lacking the special circumstances necessary to make it capital murder)
  • Killing committed by: poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, or starvation
  • Killing done in the commission of, or attempt to commit, certain felonies: First Degree Felony Murder

Felony Murder: First-degree murder that occurs when a person is accidentally or intentionally killed during the commission of, or the attempt to commit, specific violent felonies. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Arson
  • Rape, forcible sodomy, inanimate or animate object sexual penetration
  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Abduction

Felony Homicide: If an accidental killing occurs during the commission of (or attempt to commit) a less serious felony offense, then the charge is for felony homicide, rather than felony murder.

Penalties and Sentencing

First-degree murder is classified as a Class 2 felony, which means that it's punishable by a range of 20 years - life imprisonment and/or fines not to exceed $100,000.

Possible Defenses

  • Self-defense or defense of another person
  • Mistaken identity
  • Insanity

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Virginia First Degree Murder Laws and Sentences: Related Resources

Want Help with Virginia's First-Degree Murder Laws? Contact an Attorney

If you're charged with first-degree murder in Virginia, you're facing some very severe charges with the possibility of a very harsh sentence. Don't face this uncertainty without getting help from a skilled criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights while preparing an effective defense.

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