Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Virginia homicide case discussing whether a hit-and-run car accident could be the basis for a homicide conviction under state law. Ultimately, the court concluded that while not every hit-and-run accident can be the basis for a homicide conviction, neither are hit-and-run accidents categorically prohibited as a basis for such a charge. Thus, the court determined that whether a hit-and-run accident can serve as the basis for a felony-murder charge depends on the specific facts of each case.
Virginia’s felony-murder statute allows for someone to be convicted if they kill another person during the commission of a felony. The classic example of a felony-murder is when someone is accidentally killed during a bank robbery. Say, for example, the defendant’s gun accidentally discharges, or a co-defendant brings along a firearm to the surprise of the defendant. In either case, the defendant could be charged with felony-murder. However, because “malice” is a required element in a Virginia homicide conviction, the underlying felony must either be a violent crime, or a non-violent crime that was performed in a violent manner. The question here was whether a hit-and-run accident could meet such a definition.
According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was involved in a hit-and-run accident. The victim of the accident was someone the defendant knew, and had previously been involved in a relationship with. Evidently, a few days before the fatal accident, the defendant had struck the victim with her vehicle while he was riding a bicycle; however, both the defendant and the victim denied that was the case.
The defendant was charged with a hit-and-run and also with felony-murder. The defendant objected to the murder charge, arguing that there was no malice associated with her acts, and because of that, she could not legally face murder charges. The court disagreed, explaining that a hit-and-run accident may qualify as a predicate offense for a felony-murder conviction provided certain elements are met.
First, the hit-and-run must evidence some form of malice on the defendant’s part. Here, the court noted that the defendant knew the victim, and had maybe even potentially tried to hit him with her car a few days earlier.
Second, the court explained that the prosecution must show the “killing is so closely related to the felony in time, place, and causal connection as to make it a part of the same criminal enterprise.” The court found that the defendant’s actions in striking the victim and leaving him met this element. Thus, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.
Have You Been Charged with a Virginia Crime?
If you have recently been charged with a Virginia homicide offense, contact the dedicated criminal defense attorneys at Robinson Law, PLLC. At Robinson Law, we represent clients who are facing all types of serious crimes, including Virginia murder charges, gun possession offenses, and serious Virginia assault crimes. To learn more about how we can help you defend your freedom against the charges you are facing, call 703-542-4008 to schedule a free consultation.