Our attorneys regularly undertake the representation of defendants facing high profile and high stakes murder charges. If considering us as your attorneys, we understand the resources that must be committed to such cases and must ensure that the firm has the capacity to undertake the representation prior to agreeing to do so. This can depend on the complexity of the case, when the case is anticipated to go to trial, and other factors.
Strong Trial Teams
In defending homicide charges, we assemble trial teams of experienced attorneys, investigators, experts, and support personnel. The firm often works in conjunction with the Law Offices of Chris Leibig and other experienced criminal defense attorneys.[Related: Arlington County sheriff acquitted of murder, found guilty of voluntary manslaughter]
We strive for our defense teams to regularly meet in order to address client concerns, legal challenges to prosecution evidence, guilt/innocence phase investigation, and theory of the defense and jury. We also address potential for settlement, barriers to settlement, aggravating factors, mitigating factors, and even victim outreach.[Related: Joseph King, Megan Thomas, and Chris Leibig defend accused in Alexandria triple murder case]
Pretrial Motion Practice, Preparation and Investigation, and Mock Juries
We routinely engage in extensive pretrial motion practice to limit or suppress evidence in addition to requesting other forms of relief. We also believe in conducting thorough factual investigations using private investigators, preparing and vetting witnesses and cross-examination, and in certain cases, we present prosecution and defense arguments to mock juries to aid us in understanding the impact of evidence and argument.
Experts and Investigators
The use of experts is often necessary to capably defend serious criminal allegations. We have employed numerous experts to counter and defend government allegations in homicide cases. In doing so, we have relationships with many forensic experts, including experts in DNA analysis, eyewitness identification and memory (psychology), computer and phone forensics, firearm and tool-mark analysis as well as forensic psychology.[Related: Virginia man who shot cop found not guilty by reason of insanity]
We regularly use private investigators who are integral parts of our trial teams. Our investigators have backgrounds in public defense as well as law enforcement.
Our criminal defense attorneys have extensive experience in Virginia’s appellate courts handling serious cases.[Related: King, Campbell, Poretz wins reversal of murder conviction in Virginia Supreme Court]
Plea negotiations, mitigation, and sentencing
While we have extensive trial experience in murder and other serious cases, we recognize plea negotiations are an essential stage of any criminal case and we have an ethical responsibility to appropriately seek, negotiate, and communicate plea offers. In this regard, successful pretrial litigation can sometimes assist in obtaining a favorable plea offer.
We also recognize there are many cases where a crime may have been committed and proven by the government, but there are mitigating factors that explain, in whole or in part, the conduct and should be considered in fashioning a fair resolution and/or sentence. Mitigating factors can include lack of prior record, work and social history, family, contributions to the community and public service, military service (including PTSD and TBI), substance abuse and/or mental health issues, disabilities, immaturity, peer pressure, financial pressure or even heat of passion.
In this regard, with the client’s agreement, we wish to get know the people we represent in order to potentially present mitigating evidence to prosecutors, judges or even juries. In cases where a plea agreement is reached and the court decides the sentence, we may present live witnesses in advocating for a particular outcome at a sentencing hearing. We also typically prepare a written submission to the court in the form of a memorandum in aid of sentencing (also known as a position on sentencing in federal court) for sentencing hearings that may argue sentencing guidelines points, but as importantly details the characteristics and background of the defendant, argues mitigating issues, and makes a principled sentencing recommendation.
Penalties and Definitions
If you are facing a murder or manslaughter charges, you should understand Virginia’s laws and the different gradations listed below from least to most serious.
- Involuntary Manslaughter
- Voluntary Manslaughter
- Second-degree Murder
- First-degree Murder
- Capital Murder
Killing with malice is considered murder. Malice means the act is committed intentionally, without just cause or as a result of ill will. Virginia punishes this crime depending on the intent of the accused and the status of the victim.
However, murder can be reduced to voluntary manslaughter if the defendant acted in the heat of passion and upon reasonable provocation. Heat of passion precludes passion. Whether heat of passion may be found is determined by the degree and nature of the provocation. It can be founded upon fear, rage, or a combination of the two. However, if the victim is not the person who provoked the defendant’s heat of passion, this defense does not apply.
Murder can also be reduced to voluntary manslaughter if the killing occurs during mutual combat. Mutual combat can occur when both parties voluntarily agree to enter into a fight with one another.
Virginia Murder and Manslaughter Penalties
- Second-degree murder: 5-40 years in prison
- Manslaughter: 1-10 years in prison
- First-degree murder: 20 years- life in prison
- Capital murder: death or natural life in prison
Defense to Murder
The law of necessity, also known as the law of self-defense, means the defendant acted out of reasonable fear of bodily harm or death at the hands of the victim. However, this necessity cannot arise out of the defendant’s own misconduct unless the defendant desists from the altercation and attempts to retreat–in such a circumstance, the defendant may be able claim imperfect self-defense.
As long as the defendant truly believes the danger is real, he has the right to defend against it. The reasonable appearance of danger is determined from the defendant’s viewpoint at the time of the act.
It is the accused’s responsibility to establish a case of self-defense when a killing is proven to be by the use of a deadly weapon. It does not have to be beyond a reasonable doubt, or even by the greater weight of the evidence. The defendant only has to give the jury a reasonable doubt as to whether or not he acted within the rights of self-defense.[Related: Virginia man who shot cop found not guilty]
Unlike murder, manslaughter is committed without malice. Involuntary and voluntary manslaughter are Class 5 felonies and are punishable by up to ten years in prison.
Involuntary manslaughter is the killing of one accidentally, by an unlawful (yet not felonious) act or by the improper performance of a lawful act. Unless the improper performance of a lawful act constitutes criminal negligence, it is insufficient for involuntary manslaughter.
To constitute involuntary manslaughter, it must amount to an unlawful commission of such lawful act, not just negligence. The accidental killing must be the proximate result of a lawful act performed in a manner so wanton, gross, and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life.
Often, traffic accidents that result in death fall into this category. In these cases, the jury decides if the accident was simple negligence or criminal negligence.
Voluntary manslaughter is the intentional killing of a person in the heat of passion, with reasonable provocation. As we discussed earlier, a murder charge can be reduced to voluntary manslaughter if the jury finds that the homicide was committed in the heat of passion, not planned in advance.
Virginia Homicide Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with murder or manslaughter, contact King, Campbell and Poretz and let our experienced homicide defense attorneys help you.