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Virginia Second Degree Murder Laws

Second-degree murder is one of several types of homicide in Virginia that also include manslaughter (involuntary and voluntary), capital murder, and first-degree murder. Further classification is made between the types of murder. Virginia law defines all murders that aren't capital murder or first-degree murders as second-degree murders. Because of this categorization, it's necessary to understand the differences between the various types of murders in Virginia.

Premeditation is a defining factor that separates capital murder and first-degree murder from second-degree murder. A "capital murder" is a premeditated murder that consists of special circumstances named in the statute; these murders include multiple killings or contract killings. First-degree murder includes premeditation killings except for killings associated with specific felonies. In contrast, malice is a key element of second degree murder. It's found in many forms including a death that occurs when an individual intends to kill or injure another person.

Virginia Second-Degree Murder Laws at a Glance

Although Virginia's statute makes a distinction between first-degree murder and second-degree murder, it doesn't provide much clarification. The chart below is intended to give additional insight to Virginia's second-degree murder laws and includes examples and links to the relevant code sections.


  • Va. Code Ann. Section 18.2-32 (second-degree murder and first-degree murder definition)
  • Va. Code Ann. Section 18.2-33 (felony homicide definition)

Definition of Second-Degree Murder

Virginia's definition of second-degree murder:

If a murder is committed and the murder doesn't meet the qualifications for either capital murder or murder in the first degree, then the offense constitutes murder in the second degree.

Examples of second-degree murder:

  • Killings resulting from extreme recklessness;
  • Killings committed in the heat of the moment made with malice, but with no premeditation;
  • Killings that were committed with the intent to injury or kill the victim;
  • Killings that were committed when the perpetrator had a "depraved mind" and no regard for human life;
  • Accidental killings that occurred during the commission of a felony or the attempt of a felony other than arson, abduction, burglary, robbery, among others (this is classified as felony homicide).

Penalties and Sentencing

Second-degree murder is punishable by confinement at a state correctional facility for a minimum of 5 years up to a maximum of 40 years and a fine not to exceed $100,000.

Possible Defenses

  • Mistake of fact
  • Self-defense or defense of others
  • Insanity
  • Intoxication

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 Second Degree Murder Laws: Related Resources

Get Legal Help for Your Virginia Second-Degree Murder Case

If you're charged with any type of murder charges in Virginia, then you're facing serious consequences including significant prison time. Anytime losing your freedom is a possibility, you should consider taking your case to an experienced criminal attorney who can pursue various defenses. An attorney can explore the possibility of having your second-degree murder charge reduced to a lesser charge like manslaughter or dismissed altogether especially if self-defense played a role.

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