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Virginia Murder Laws

When a person kills someone, regardless of intent or other details surrounding the incident, it is generally called a homicide. Specifically, murder is when a person knowingly and purposefully kills another person or causes substantial bodily harm that the person later dies due to the injuries that were inflicted.

In Virginia there are three classes of murder: capital murder, first-degree murder, and second-degree murder. Capital murder is the most serious type of homicide because it is planned and done on purpose with some type evil intent.

Capital Murder

Capital murders can be punishable by the death penalty. The term “capital” comes from the Latin word “caput,” which means “to lose one’s head.”

Examples of capital crimes include, but are not limited to:

  • Contract murder
  • Murder of a law enforcement officer
  • Murder by a prisoner
  • Multiple murders
  • Murder arising from a drug distribution crime
  • Murder of a child younger than 14 years old by a person 21 years or older

First-Degree Murder

It is first degree murder to kill another by poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, or by any willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or in the commission of, or attempt to commit, arson, rape, forcible sodomy, inanimate or animate object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary, or abduction.

Second-Degree Murder

All other murder not defined as either capital murder or first-degree murder is second-degree murder, and is punishable by anywhere from five to 40 years in prison. This includes felony murder, i.e. murder that happens when the defendant is committing another felony such as robbery or carjacking. Even a death that is an accident will be considered felony murder if it happens while a felony is being committed.

The following table highlights the main provisions of Virginia's murder laws. See also Voluntary Manslaughter, Involuntary Manslaughter, First Degree Murder Defenses, and First Degree Murder Penalties and Sentencing.

Code Sections

Capital Murder: §18.2-31

First-Degree and Second-Degree Murder: §18.2-32

Felony Murder: §18.2-33

What is Prohibited

(see above definitions)

What is Felony Murder?

If the homicide (killing of a human) took place in conjunction with a felony crime, such as robbery, burglary, a ex crime, sodomy, arson, carjacking, etc, you can be charged with felony murder.


Capital Murder: Class 1 felony, death penalty unless under 18 years old, then life imprisonment, fine of not more than $100,000

First Degree Murder: Class 2 felony, imprisonment for 20 years to life, and a possible fine of not more than $100,000.

Second Degree Murder: imprisonment for five (5) to 40 years, and a possible fine of not more than $100,000

Civil Case

Possible wrongful death lawsuit

Facing Murder Charges in Virginia? Get Legal Help

Murder charges are extremely serious and can land you in prison for the rest of your life in some instances. For this reason, it's absolutely crucial to contact a skilled criminal defense attorney if you've been charged with murder in Virginia. An attorney can explain how Virginia murder laws apply to your case, inform you about defenses that may be available to you, and represent you in plea negotiations and court, if necessary.

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