Manslaughter in Virginia is among the harshly punished crimes because it involves the death of another person. Thus, you need to be well prepared with a competent attorney to battle out the charges with the prosecutor if your innocence is to be heard. If you are in Fairfax or the greater Northern Virginia area, Virginia Criminal Attorney Law Firm is ready to help fight the manslaughter charges after analyzing your case and determining the most suitable defense strategies.
What is the Legal Definition of Manslaughter in Virginia?
Virginia defines manslaughter as the killing of another person unlawfully and without malice. Most often, it is termed as a “crime of passion”. For the crime of manslaughter to suffice, you must have acted intentionally.
Unlike the crime of murder, manslaughter does not involve prior planning; rather, it is committed when there is heated altercation or provocations. Therefore, manslaughter can be viewed specifically as murder that is intentional and non-malicious, that often occurs when one is provoked. It may also occur during an abrupt fight in which you may be forced to act instantly to prevent yourself from imminent danger. Manslaughter that has these features is known as voluntary manslaughter. If for example, you arrived home and found your spouse having an affair with another person, then shot dead both of them because of anger, then this would be voluntary manslaughter because:
- You entered the house without malice;
- The incident provoked you;
- You acted with heated passion;
- You acted with the intent to harm or even kill.
Involuntary manslaughter is the killing of another person accidentally. It happens when you are engaging in an illegal or unlawful act, or when you are performing a lawful act in an improper manner. From the description, involuntary manslaughter stems from both legal and illegal activities. As such, various ways can be used to charge you with the offense. For instance, if you open fire near a crowd of people and in the process a person dies, you will be charged with involuntary manslaughter. This is because you did not have any intention of killing but the act itself was unlawful.
Another instance is mistaking a brake pedal for an accelerator. As a result, you hit another vehicle, killing the driver instantly. The act is involuntary manslaughter because it was commissioned through the legal act of driving. However, you performed the driving recklessly.
Furthermore, VA 18.3-36-1 views you to have committed manslaughter if you drive while intoxicated, and later, cause an accident that resulted in an individual’s death. This is involuntary manslaughter because while you were driving, you had no intention to kill; but you knew that it is illegal to drive while intoxicated.
Penalties for Manslaughter in Virginia
Manslaughter in Virginia is a class 5 felony. The penalties slightly differ depending on whether your crime was treated as voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. According to Virginia Code Section 18.2-35, the penalties for voluntary manslaughter include one to ten years imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of $2,500.
The judges may extend some leniency on the offenders of manslaughter. If that is the case with you, you will only be jailed for a maximum of one year in county jail.
Like voluntary manslaughter, if you are convicted of involuntary manslaughter, you will face a maximum of 10 years in state prison and a maximum fine of 2500 dollars. This is in line with VA Code section 18.2-36.1.
If you committed manslaughter while driving under influence, your license will be suspended as an addition to normal manslaughter penalties. You could also be ordered to attend alcohol safety programs, otherwise called DUI programs.
In some cases, your involuntary manslaughter may have occurred under extreme circumstances. That is, you acted in a manner that depicted a high disregard for human life and in the process, caused death. In such a case, you will be charged with aggravated manslaughter. Similar to ordinary voluntary manslaughter, aggravated manslaughter is a class 5 felony, but its punishment is harsher. Specifically, you would face up to 20 years in state prison. Of the 20 years term in prison, at least two years are mandatory. In addition, your license could be revoked. Depending on the specific circumstances of your cases, the judge may convict you of other related homicide charges.
What are the Differences between Murder and Manslaughter in Virginia?
Manslaughter and murder are both homicide crimes in Virginia. That is, they both involve the killing of another person. The main difference between the two crimes is the presence or absence of malice. For instance, in murder, malice is present but absent in manslaughter. Murder, therefore, is committed following an aforethought. As such, there must have been an intent to kill or you conducted yourself in a manner that is viewed as reckless and likely to cause death for you to be charged with murder.
Another difference between murder and manslaughter is on the sections through which the offenses are divided into. For instance, murder is divided into first and second degree while manslaughter is divided into involuntary and voluntary.
Possible Legal Defenses for Manslaughter
It is possible to avoid jail or prison term or the fines associated with a conviction for manslaughter by using a strong defense strategy. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney would prove to be very important since you can expect that the prosecutor wouldn’t spare any chances to see you convicted. The most common defenses that your attorney can rely on are outlined below.
- You were defending yourself or other people
You can claim that the action that led to the killing of another person was a way of defending yourself or another person from being killed, raped, robbed, maimed, subjected to atrocious crime or made to suffer severe bodily injuries. If you take any step in such a situation and in the process you killed the perpetrator, the law will excuse you from manslaughter charges.
There are, however, instances of imperfect self-defense which instead of excusing you from the charges, acts as a mere mitigating factor that helps reduce the severity of your penalties. For instance, killing another person because you believed that the person was in great danger of being harmed or killed. In such a situation, you felt that the only remedy was to use force. But unfortunately, you used excessive force that led to death.
- You were insane
This strategy will work well if you killed another person without your knowledge or understanding of your action. You are also excused if you are unable to differentiate between wrong and right. For example, Mike has been known to have a mental illness which occurs periodically. When sick, Mike could grab anything and use it to hit on anything close including people. On one occasion, the condition occurred and as a result, Mike took a tool from his workstation and hit someone nearby, killing him instantly. In this situation, Mike could possibly not be guilty of manslaughter because while commissioning the killing, he was temporarily insane.
- The killing was accidental
The intent to kill needs to have prevailed. Therefore, if the killing was accidental, you should not be convicted. For the defense strategy to hold, your attorney has to prove that you had no intent to harm (ie. you had no criminal intent). The attorney also has to prove that, at the time of the accident, you were not acting in a way that shows negligence; instead, you were engaging or participating in an act or behavior deemed lawful.
- You were intoxicated
Intoxication as a defense strategy will excuse you from manslaughter conviction only if you were involuntarily intoxicated. That is, you were forced to take alcohol or somebody drugged you secretly. Your attorney will have to strive at substantiating the presence of intoxication facts.
- You are innocent
You can also claim that you are innocent and that you didn’t kill the alleged victim. This is possible especially where the body of the victim is discovered later and nothing can clearly link you to the offense. In most cases, the prosecution is charged with the responsibility of establishing facts related to your crime. Sometimes the witnesses used may not be able to link you directly to the crime. As such, your attorney can challenge the claims and argue that you are innocent.
- The evidence is insufficient
The prosecution is always faced with the responsibility of providing evidence that links you with the offense. At times, they may lack exact facts about the incident forcing them to rely on witnesses. The information collected, therefore, could be untrue or scanty. If your attorney can successfully challenge the insufficient state of the evidence, your case can be dismissed.
Offenses Related to Manslaughter
Virginia Code Section 18.2-31; Capital Murder
VA Code Section 18.2-31 describes capital murder as a premeditated killing in which one kills another person willfully and deliberately. You are viewed to have committed capital murder if the act of killing falls under any of the following circumstances:
- You were acting as a hired killer;
- The victim of the murder is a legal officer such as a judge who has been working in the high court, the court of appeal, or any other court;
- The victim of the murder is a witness who was to give some evidence on a pending criminal case;
- The killing took place while you were committing another crime such as robbery, or when attempting to rob;
- The person killed was of fourteen years or below, and you are 21 years and above;
- The incident took place while committing a terrorist act or when you were attempting to commit any terrorism-related activities;
- The incident resulted in the death of many people.
The offense is always treated in Virginia as a class 1 felony. Therefore, if you are convicted of it, the penalty is death! However, if you are below the age of 18 years, you will be sentenced to life imprisonment. In whatever the case, you will not be given a chance for parole. In addition, you will be required to pay fines amounting to 180,000 dollars.
Generally, before putting the death sentence into effect, the prosecution has to prove beyond reasonable doubt any of the following facts. That;
- Based on the available history connecting you to the offense, you are likely to commit another offense that is similar or even dangerous to the community and the general public;
- Your actions while committing the murder were extremely inhuman. For example, it involved aggravated assault, torture or deprivation of the mind of the alleged victim.
You can avoid the death sentence as a penalty to capital murder by arguing that;
- Your criminal history alone does not provide enough justification that you could commit such an offense. Hence, you did not deserve such a penalty;
- You were not in a position to assess the criminal nature of your actions;
- You were emotionally or mentally disturbed while committing the offense. Thus, you acted out of stress or mental pressure.
1st Degree Murder; VA Code Section 18.2-32
You can be charged with 1st-degree murder if you kill another person through circumstances not covered under capital murder. However, the killing should have occurred through any of the following ways;
- Starving, imprisoning, poisoning or lying the victim in waiting;
- Premeditated, deliberate and intentional killing;
- While attempting or committing rape, forcible sodomy, abduction, burglary or object sexual penetration.
1st-degree murder is a class 2 felony. Therefore, you face between 20 years and life imprisonment. In addition, you may be required to pay a maximum of 100,000 dollars as fine.
Your experienced Virginia criminal attorney can help you fight charges related to 1st-degree murder by claiming that you were defending yourself or others from danger, you are a victim of mistaken identity, or you were insane, hence, could not recognize the criminal nature of your act.
2nd Degree Murder
Second-degree murder is any murder that does not meet the condition for the capital and 1st-degree murder. Specifically, you are guilty of the offense if the killings;
- Occurred or resulted from your carelessness or recklessness;
- Were commissioned with a view/intent to kill or cause injuries to the alleged victim;
- Occurred when you as the perpetrator was depraved and had no regard for human life;
- Occurred during a heated moment commissioned with malice but with premeditation;
- Occurred accidentally while you were committing a felonious crime besides arson, burglary, abduction, or robbery.
The penalties for second-degree murder range from 5 years to 40 years in a state correctional facility. In addition, you are required to pay fines not exceeding 100,000 dollars. Through your Virginia Criminal Attorney, you can defend yourself by claiming that;
- You were mistakenly identified,
- You were defending yourself or another person from imminent danger,
- You were insane when committing the act,
- You were intoxicated. The intoxication, however, needs to have occurred involuntarily.
VA Code Section the 18.2-32.1; Murder of a Pregnant Woman
You are guilty of the offense if you kill a pregnant woman deliberately, intentionally and without premeditation with an aim of killing the unborn. If you are convicted of the offense, you will face felony charges whose penalties include a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 40 years in the state prison.
Assault and Battery under VA Code Section 18.2-57
Virginia charges assault and battery under the same legal section. However, the two offenses are not the same. Precisely, assault refers to attempts or activities which in a way, inflict physical harm or fear of suffering physical harm on an individual. For simple assault, the prosecution has to prove that;
- You attempted to cause or inflict harm on another person intentionally;
- You intentionally acted in a way that was likely to inflict some fear of suffering physical harm on the victim.
The fear you inflicted needs to be reasonable for you to be convicted. That is, what you did must have the ability to frighten most people under the circumstance that the alleged victim was.
Simple assault is treated in Virginia as a class one misdemeanor. It carries a maximum of one year in county jail and a maximum fine of 2,500 dollars.
On the other hand, battery refers to actual physical contact with another person that is intentional and harmful. Like assault, the battery is a class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia and punished by a maximum of one year in county jail, and fines not exceeding 2,500 dollars. Through your attorney, you can refute the charges by claiming that the incident was accidental or the alleged victim consented to touch. Self-defense and mistaken identity can also act as defense strategies against the charges.
Find an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you are charged with manslaughter in Virginia, you should not hesitate to look for a criminal defense attorney. This is because the penalties linked to the offense are severe, and you could potentially face more severe charges such as murder if there is enough evidence that come to light during the pretrial investigation. In Fairfax, VA and the greater Northern Virginia area, Virginia Criminal Attorney is one of the most experienced law firms and has a dedicated team that is ready to serve you professionally and satisfactorily. Call us at 703-718-5533 today to expedite the defense process.