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Manslaughter Charges in Virginia: Understanding Your Options

Being charged with manslaughter is a truly terrifying experience. Felony charges are life-altering, and incredibly serious consequences loom. Whether it’s voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, both are considered felony charges in Virginia. While these are less serious than murder charges, you can still face a lengthy prison sentence and hefty fines if you are convicted. Working with the right attorney and properly understanding the law can make a world of difference.

What Is Voluntary Manslaughter?

Under Virginia law, manslaughter is the act of killing another person unlawfully and without malice. Often termed as “a crime of passion,” the crime of voluntary manslaughter means you must have acted intentionally.

While murder involves prior planning, voluntary manslaughter is defined as killing while there is a heated altercation or provocation. It may also occur during a sudden fight where your instinct is to protect yourself from harm. One example of voluntary manslaughter would be coming home and catching your spouse with another person and then fatally attacking them out of anger. The characteristics of voluntary manslaughter in this case would be:

  • Entering the house without malice
  • Feeling provoked emotionally by what you discovered
  • Your actions were driven by passion
  • You intended to harm or kill

What Is Involuntary Manslaughter?

Involuntary manslaughter is accidentally killing another person. It could occur when you are both engaging in an unlawful act or when you are following the law, but an accident occurs. Because both legal and illegal activity can be categorized as involuntary manslaughter, various situations could be charged this way. One example is firing a gun near a crowd, and a stray bullet kills someone. You did not intentionally kill that individual, but the act of opening fire is illegal. Another example would be hitting someone with your car. You did not mean to harm anyone, but if it is proven that you were speeding, driving under the influence, or driving recklessly, you could be charged with manslaughter.

The Consequences of Manslaughter in Virginia

In the state of Virginia, manslaughter is considered to be a class 5 felony. The penalty might differ slightly depending upon whether your crime is determined to have been voluntary or involuntary. In most instances, if convicted, you will face one to ten years of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $2500.

For involuntary manslaughter, the penalty is almost exactly the same—a maximum of ten years in state prison, plus up to a $2500 fine. However, some judges will extend leniency, and you will only be jailed for a maximum of one year in county jail.

If it is proven you committed manslaughter while driving intoxicated, your license will likely be suspended in addition to the penalties mentioned above. You might also be required to attend an educational program focusing on alcohol safety.

One final penalty comes with “aggravated manslaughter.” Aggravated manslaughter is charged when it is believed that you acted in a manner that displayed extreme disregard for human life and in which your actions caused death. Aggravated manslaughter is also usually charged when the following people are killed:

  • Children
  • The elderly (including through neglect)
  • Disabled adults
  • Paramedics or firefighters
  • Police officers

If you’re convicted of aggravated manslaughter, you could face up to 20 years in prison, with two of the years mandatory. Your license could also be permanently revoked if you committed the crime behind the wheel, and you could also be convicted of other related homicide charges.

While manslaughter is a devastating crime, it is possible to avoid jail time or fines if you have a strong legal defense. There are a few common defenses an attorney might use to help you avoid serious consequences.

Self-Defense or Defending Others

If it can be proven that you killed out of either self-defense or protecting others from being killed, raped, or assaulted in any other way, you could be found not guilty of manslaughter charges. In some instances, you will not be released from all charges, but instead, the penalties will be reduced. One example of this would be killing another person because you believed they were a danger even though they had not physically touched anyone yet, but you used excessive force that led to death.


Pleading insanity sounds like a cliché defense we see on courtroom television dramas, but it is actually a common legal defense used in manslaughter cases. If it can be proven that you cannot discern the difference between right and wrong, you could plead mental incompetence.

Accidental Killing

If you did not intend to kill someone, and your attorney can prove you did not intend harm, you could have your case dismissed. An example of this would be an accident where it can be shown you were not acting negligently. Perhaps a piece of equipment failed, or a person jumped out in front of your car so suddenly there wasn’t time to stop.

These are just a few examples of defenses used to help reduce or eliminate jail time or penalties when faced with manslaughter charges. In order to know and understand all of your legal options, it is important to work with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Do You Find Yourself in Need of a Virginia Criminal Defense Lawyer?

If you've recently found yourself in need of an experienced criminal defense attorney in Virginia you should speak with us as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Fairfax, Virginia law office at 703.277.2811 to schedule your free consultation. We help clients throughout Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia and look forward to helping you.

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