Monday, February 10, 2014

The Death Penalty in Virginia

In Virginia, the death penalty is an available sentence for only one crime: First Degree Murder.  First degree murder means there was premeditation in killing the victim.  However, for a court or jury to impose a death penalty sentence, there must be at least one aggravating factor.

The following are considered aggravating factors in Virginia:
"1. The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of any person in the commission of abduction, as defined in § 18.2-48, when such abduction was committed with the intent to extort money or a pecuniary benefit or with the intent to defile the victim of such abduction;
2. The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of any person by another for hire;
3. The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of any person by a prisoner confined in a state or local correctional facility as defined in § 53.1-1, or while in the custody of an employee thereof;
4. The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of any person in the commission of robbery or attempted robbery;
5. The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of any person in the commission of, or subsequent to, rape or attempted rape, forcible sodomy or attempted forcible sodomy or object sexual penetration;
6. The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of a law-enforcement officer as defined in § 9.1-101, a fire marshal appointed pursuant to § 27-30 or a deputy or an assistant fire marshal appointed pursuant to § 27-36, when such fire marshal or deputy or assistant fire marshal has police powers as set forth in §§ 27-34.2 and 27-34.2:1, an auxiliary police officer appointed or provided for pursuant to §§ 15.2-1731 and 15.2-1733, an auxiliary deputy sheriff appointed pursuant to § 15.2-1603, or any law-enforcement officer of another state or the United States having the power to arrest for a felony under the laws of such state or the United States, when such killing is for the purpose of interfering with the performance of his official duties;
7. The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of more than one person as a part of the same act or transaction;
8. The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of more than one person within a three-year period;
9. The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of any person in the commission of or attempted commission of a violation of § 18.2-248, involving a Schedule I or II controlled substance, when such killing is for the purpose of furthering the commission or attempted commission of such violation;
10. The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of any person by another pursuant to the direction or order of one who is engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise as defined in subsection I of § 18.2-248;
11. The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of a pregnant woman by one who knows that the woman is pregnant and has the intent to cause the involuntary termination of the woman's pregnancy without a live birth;
12. The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of a person under the age of fourteen by a person age twenty-one or older;
13. The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of any person by another in the commission of or attempted commission of an act of terrorism as defined in § 18.2-46.4;
14. The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of a justice of the Supreme Court, a judge of the Court of Appeals, a judge of a circuit court or district court, a retired judge sitting by designation or under temporary recall, or a substitute judge appointed under § 16.1-69.9:1 when the killing is for the purpose of interfering with his official duties as a judge; and
15. The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of any witness in a criminal case after a subpoena has been issued for such witness by the court, the clerk, or an attorney, when the killing is for the purpose of interfering with the person's duties in such case."
Virginia Code Section 18.2-31

These are the only instances in which a court may impose a death penalty sentence.  In common with all of these factors is the "willful, deliberate and premeditated killing" or another, meaning all of these factors result in a conviction of first degree murder.

Virginia certainly does not have the most lenient death penalty law but they are also not the harshest.  In fact, many states have abolished the death penalty all together.  On the other hand, in some states, there are additional crimes for which someone can be sentenced to death. 

If you have questions regarding the death penalty, you should seek the advice of an attorney.