If you are indicted for capital murder, you could receive a life sentence if you are lucky to escape the death penalty. You will need the services of a top-notch, experienced criminal defense attorney to help you develop a credible defense and navigate through the criminal justice process. Regardless of the charges brought against you, our legal experts at Virginia Criminal Attorney will competently handle your case in any court within Fairfax, VA, and Northern Virginia. We will vigorously and skillfully defend you to ensure you possibly avoid the harsh penalty associated with capital murder.

Capital Murder as Defined Under Virginia Laws

In Virginia, killing someone is generally a homicide regardless of the intent or any other details associated with the incident. Murder is when you knowingly, purposefully, and with malicious aforethought, kill somebody else or cause serious bodily harm that the person dies later as a result of the injuries you inflicted. Even if you intended to kill a different person from the one who died, you will face murder charges. Among the different types of homicide, capital murder is the gravest since it is planned and deliberately executed with the intention of death.

The Virginia Code 18.2-31 enhances the definition of murder by adding 15 other offenses that constitute capital murder. Under this statute, you are liable for capital murder if you pre-meditate, and willfully and deliberately kill:

  • During an abduction when the abduction is executed with an intention to extort money or to defile the abductee

  • As a contractor hired to kill

  • When you are a prisoner or in the custody of a correctional facility employee

  • During a robbery or an attempted robbery

  • During or after a rape, object sexual penetration, forcible sodomy or an attempt of any of these offenses

  • A police officer, a fire marshal, an auxiliary police officer or a deputy sheriff, when the killing is to prevent the victim from performing his or her official duties

  • More than one person in a single criminal act

  • Multiple people within a period of three years

  • While committing or attempting to commit a violation involving a schedule I or II controlled substance, with an objective to continue committing or attempting to commit the crime

  • Under orders from a third party who is involved in an ongoing illegal venture as defined under Virginia state laws

  • A pregnant woman when you are aware of the pregnancy, and with the aim of causing an involuntary termination of the victim’s pregnancy with no live birth

  • A person younger than 14 when you are 21 years or older

  • While committing or attempting to commit an act of terrorism

  • A sitting, temporarily designated or substitute judge with an aim to interfere with the victim’s official duties

  • A witness in criminal proceedings, after the witness has received a subpoena and the killing is aimed at interfering with the duties of the witness in the case

The Arrest Process

Once police officers respond to a crime scene, they immediately secure the area and collect all possible evidence from the scene. If an officer instantly pinpoints you as a potential suspect, their investigations may be biased. They may record evidence that is directed at you, even though you may be innocent.

If the officers do not identify a suspect at the crime scene, they will attempt to piece together the evidence collected and the testimony from witnesses to establish the identity of the suspect. The police will work on the case continually and follow all available leads. If they question you, you risk mentioning something that may incriminate you even when you know you are innocent. To avoid an arrest, you need to contact an attorney immediately.

After the police have gathered enough evidence to link you to this crime, they will seek an arrest warrant. Once you are in custody, the officers will try to have you make self-incriminating statements. They must inform you of your right to remain silent and to have an attorney. However, if you are not in custody, the officers may interrogate you without reading you your rights. Additionally, if you present yourself at the police station voluntarily, you are not under arrest, neither do the police have to read you your rights.

Though you may not realize it, talking to the police without consulting an attorney may jeopardize your freedom. A simple, innocently inaccurate statement that is independent of the offense may be used as evidence of your dishonesty. Upon your arrest, your attorney will make sure that your constitutional rights are respected.

These rights include:

The right to remain silent and to get an attorney: Once you are in custody, the police must advise you about this right. Any statements that may be obtained from you before the police read you your rights should not be valid in court.

The right to be arrested only with good reason: The police should only arrest you if they have probable cause. If you are detained without probable cause, the evidence or information obtained from you is not admissible in court.

You are not obligated to speak to the arresting or investigating officers whatsoever: You have a right to request the presence of a lawyer before answering any question. Even when the questions seem basic, you can still decline to answer until your lawyer is present.

The police cannot carry out an unauthorized search: Law enforcement officers should only conduct a search of your home or business premises with your consent, if they have a search warrant, or if there is an emergency. If they search your property using an arrest warrant, any evidence collected should be nullified.

Penalties for Capital Murder

As a serious crime in Virginia, capital murder attracts the most severe penalties including a possible death sentence. A conviction often means that you will spend the remaining part of your life in prison.

Capital murder is a class 1 felony under section 18.2-31 and the penalties are:

  • Death sentence

  • A fine not exceeding $100,000

The best outcome after a conviction is life in imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

If you are under 18 years or have mental disabilities, the penalties are

  • Life imprisonment

  • A fine not exceeding $100,000

What the Prosecutor Needs to Prove

For an accusation of capital murder to be sustained successfully, the prosecutor should prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that your act of homicide was premeditated, intentional and deliberate. This applies even where the killing happened within the setting of another crime. Premeditation can happen in the seconds preceding the murder. However, advance planning of the criminal act is not a prerequisite.

If you are found guilty of capital murder, a post-trial proceeding is conducted to decide whether the penalty for the crime should be death or life imprisonment. For you to be sentenced to death, the prosecutor must prove beyond any reasonable doubt that:

  • Based on your previous history and actions in the murder, you are likely to commit another act of violence that would cause substantial risk to society

  • Your actions in the murder were wantonly or outrageously inhuman, vile or horrible in that they involved mental depravity, aggravated assault or torture on the victim

You will get an opportunity to propose mitigating factors that demonstrate why you should not be sentenced to death. Such factors include:

  • That you have no notable criminal record

  • That you were under extreme emotional or mental distress

  • That you were unable to sufficiently perceive the criminal nature of your behavior

Possible Defenses to Fight Capital Murder Allegations

A conviction for capital murder is literally a matter of life and death. How your defense team will handle your case will determine where and how you spend the rest of your life. A good defense strategy can have your charges reduced to a lesser crime or dismissed altogether.

There are several defenses that you can use to your advantage.

Void evidence presented by the prosecution

Your lawyer can evaluate all the evidence provided, beginning with the confiscation process by law enforcement officers to certify that the confiscation was legal. If the police did not abide by the correct procedures, the evidence should not be admitted. Additionally, if the police officers violated your constitutional rights, or did not collect part of or all the evidence properly, you can ask that the evidence is nullified.

Evidence that can be irregularly collected includes:

  • A murder weapon impounded after an unreasonable search in your vehicle, business or home without a warrant

  • A DNA sample that was inappropriately drawn, tagged, stored or scrutinized

Show reasonable doubt

The prosecutor’s role is to prove all the elements of the crime beyond any reasonable doubt. You can dispute the prosecution’s witness statements, reanalyze evidence against you and submit new evidence to show your innocence. You may be acquitted or convicted of a lesser offense if your attorney can demonstrate a reasonable probability that:

  • You are not responsible for the victim’s death

  • Your action was not intentional

  • Yours was a case of mistaken identity

Use an affirmative defense

In using an affirmative defense, you admit killing someone but also argue that you were justified to do so. The most effective type of affirmative defense in capital murder cases is self-defense. The argument is that you reasonably presumed that using force was necessary to stop the victim from sexually assaulting, seriously wounding or killing another person. Your attorney may additionally argue that you did not have the capacity to comprehend the severity of the incident due to diminished mental capacity. Although this defense is rare, you may end up being convicted of a lesser crime.

Crimes Related to Capital Murder

In all cases involving killing, the circumstances surrounding the crime determine the charges to be brought against you. Some offenses of killing are considered lesser crimes than others, and the penalties vary. Here are some of the crimes of killing related to capital murder.

First-degree Murder

Charges of capital murder are similar to those of first-degree murder. They involve situations that capital murder does not cover. While both capital and first-degree murder require a premeditated, intentional and deliberate act, the specific circumstances of the offense dictate how the murder will be prosecuted.

Under the Virginia Code 18.2-32, you are liable for murder in the first degree if the killing was

  • By poison, imprisonment, lying in wait or starving

  • Deliberate, willful and premeditated

  • Done while attempting to commit or committing abduction, burglary, robbery, arson, forcible sodomy, rape or object sexual penetration

First-degree murder is a class 2 felony and the penalties are:

  • Imprisonment for between 20 years to life

  • A fine not greater than $100,000

Attempted first-degree murder is a class 4 felony. The penalties are:

  • A maximum prison sentence of 10 years

  • A fine not exceeding $100,000

Second-degree Murder

Under Virginia laws, all murders except first-degree murder and capital murder are categorized as second-degree murder. The elements of second-degree murder are:

  • You committed the murder in the spur of the moment with malice but without planning or premeditation

  • Malice as a critical element of second-degree murder. It can refer to malice towards somebody without the intention to kill them, an intention to kill or injure somebody, or extreme recklessness

Under section 18.2-32 of the Virginia code, a conviction of second-degree murder will result in:

  • Between 5 – 40 years in prison

  • A maximum fine of $100,000

Other consequences of a second-degree murder conviction include:

  • A permanent criminal record

  • Lifetime prohibition from owning a firearm

Felony Murder

Under section 18.2-33, felony murder is a murder that you commit in the process of executing another felony such as a carjacking or a robbery. Accidental death will also be considered a felony murder if it occurs while you are committing a felony. The penalties are:

  • Imprisonment for between 5 – 40 years

  • A fine not exceeding $100,000

Voluntary Manslaughter

Virginia is among the few states that interpret voluntary and involuntary manslaughter by case law instead of statutes. You are liable for manslaughter if you unlawfully kill another person without malice. It is often deemed a crime of passion and is different from an intentional killing. It is committing a criminal act out of brutality and wickedness.

Virginia courts have defined voluntary manslaughter as a non-malicious, intentional murder that occurs in unexpected conflict or in an out of control rage due to reasonable provocation.

Manslaughter is less serious compared to murder. Although both involve an intentional act, premeditation is a prerequisite for murder. Often, if you are charged with murder, you may also face charges of manslaughter.

There are several situations in which you can be accused of voluntary manslaughter. These include killing:

  • Someone while engaging in an unplanned brawl

  • In a rage after getting home and finding the victim in bed with your spouse

  • Somebody during a domestic dispute or while being abused

  • Someone in self-defense where the court finds you to have overreacted

To be convicted of voluntary manslaughter:

  • You must have killed the person intentionally – the intention is a key element

  • You did not plan but killed the person on impulse in the heat of passion or after provocation

Voluntary manslaughter is a class 5 felony. The punishments are:

  • A prison term of a minimum 1 year to 10 years

  • A maximum fine of $2,500

  • At the discretion of the judge, jail time for less than 12 months.

Involuntary Manslaughter

You will be charged with involuntary manslaughter if you unintentionally kill another person. You will be liable if you accidentally kill a person while you are committing an illegal act that is not a felony or engaging in a lawful act inappropriately. Involuntary manslaughter is based on your recklessness or negligence. Additionally, involuntary manslaughter includes causing the death of someone while you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Involuntary manslaughter is classified as a class 5 felony and the penalties are:

  • Incarceration for a minimum 1 year to 10 years.

  • A fine not greater than $2,500

  • Jail time for less than 12 months at the discretion of the judge

If you killed the person while driving under the influence of alcohol you will face additional consequences which include:

  • A suspension of your driver’s license

  • Mandatory attendance and completion of an alcohol safety action program

Involuntary manslaughter mostly occurs when you kill somebody while you are intoxicated. However, you could also be charged with the crime of handling a firearm recklessly. If your conduct is so blatant, spiteful, and liable that you show careless indifference to human life, you will be indicted with aggravated involuntary manslaughter.

The penalties for aggravated involuntary manslaughter are:

  • A prison term of up to 20 years, with the convict required to serve a mandatory one year

  • A fine of not more than $2,500

Contact a Murder Attorney Near Me

Capital murder is already a grave mistake. Avoid making any further mistakes by hiring the seasoned and skilled Virginia Criminal Attorney to take control of your case. We understand the constitutional and procedural defense strategies that can get your charges reduced or dismissed. We have the requisite experience to serve your best interests in the justice system within Fairfax, VA, and Northern Virginia. Call us at 703-718-5533, and we will aggressively pursue the best possible result for you.