Felony murder is often an incidental consequence of an offender carrying out another offense that would be considered a felony. Even if you did not mean to hurt anyone but a death occurred, you could face extensive time in prison if convicted under the Felony Murder statute. An example of when one can be charged with felony murder is if an individual burns down an abandoned building where someone is hiding inside and the person hiding dies as a result of the fire. Felony murder is also often charged in child or elder abuse cases.
Any offense where a person loses his or her life is a complicated and sensitive matter for everyone involved. Felony murder offenses are often complex, multi-dimensional cases that can involve extensive police and crime scene investigations. Due to the range of cases which can be charged under the felony murder statute, it can be difficult to narrow down and define the types of evidence that may be “typical” for evaluating a felony murder charge.
Generally speaking, felony murder requires proof of several different factors including that a person died during the course of a felony, that the death was the result of criminal agency of the offender, and an act of the offender was a proximate cause of death.
Felony Murder Defined
Felony murder is defined under the Virginia Code (§ 18.2 – 33) as the accidental killing of another person that occurred during the commission of a felonious crime. If the felony being committed is rape, arson, robbery, burglary, abduction, or inanimate or animate object sexual penetration then the murder is considered first degree murder. Even if the death occurs after the offender flees the scene of the crime, this can still qualify under the felony murder statute.
Felony Murder Penalties in Virginia
The specific penalties that you may face are dependent on the type of felony that you are charged with and whether you have a prior criminal history.
Generally, if you are convicted of felony murder in Virginia, you may face at least five years in prison and up to a maximum of 40 years. However, the five years is not a mandatory minimum, meaning that it can be suspended.
Defending Felony Murder in Virginia
To be convicted of felony murder in Virginia, the prosecuting attorney is responsible for proving beyond a reasonable doubt the following elements:
The act causing the death was committed by a person involved in the underlying felony
The act causing death was in furtherance of the felony, and
Some act attributable to the defendant must have caused the death
There are three common ways to challenge felony murder. One is to challenge whether the defendant is guilty of the underlying offense. Another is to contest whether the defendant is the agent of the fatal injury. The final way is to challenge the connection between the underlying felony and the death. For example, let us imagine that someone steals a car on a Monday. If that person is then involved in a car chase on Tuesday where they strike and kill a pedestrian, then that person would not be guilty of felony murder due to the amount of time between the theft and the accident.
Your Defense Team Makes the Difference
The Roanoke Criminal Attorneys of Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico have extensive experience defending felony murder charges in the Roanoke and surrounding areas circuit courts. When successful, they are often able to reduce jail time, fines and the charge on a client’s criminal record. They understand that a felony murder conviction can have a substantial negative impact on a client’s life, which is why they encourage you to contact them as soon as possible.
Facing felony murder charges in Virginia?
If you’ve been charged with a crime related to felony murder in Roanoke, the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico can help evaluate the details of your case and your options. For an appointment at our Roanoke office, call us at (540) 343-9349.