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West Virginia Criminal Law: An Overview

Both the victims and perpetrators of crimes can benefit from learning about their rights under West Virginia’s criminal laws. For instance, while victims often assume the role of witnesses in criminal lawsuits, they are not entirely powerless in suing the criminal for damages in a civil case. Criminals, likewise, aren’t powerless in their defense as they have a legal right to an attorney who can bargain with the criminal prosecutor.

Use LawInfo’s criminal law articles to help educate yourself about West Virginia’s laws and how they affect your case. You can learn about the difference between misdemeanors and felonies, intoxicated driving charges and many other state-specific criminal law topics. You can also use LawInfo to connect with a West Virginia criminal law attorney in Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown or elsewhere in the state.

Murder vs. Manslaughter in West Virginia

Murder and manslaughter are two distinct types of homicide offenses in West Virginia criminal law. The main differences between them are the circumstances of the homicide and the severity of each offense’s sentences.

Murder is a more serious form of homicide than manslaughter because the offender intentionally killed their victim. Malice aforethought (i.e. the intent to kill) is typically the key characteristic in murder cases. However, West Virginia’s laws state that a homicide is a murder if “the defendant did feloniously, willfully, maliciously, deliberately and unlawfully slay, kill and murder the deceased.”

Manslaughter—while less serious than murder—is still a felony and penalized quite severely. It is often called an “accidental” homicide because the killer lacked malice aforethought. There are two types of manslaughter under West Virginia law: voluntary manslaughter (which is a heat of passion killing instigated by extreme emotions) and involuntary manslaughter (which is caused by either recklessness or criminal negligence). Involuntary manslaughter is penalized less severely than voluntary manslaughter.

Crime Classifications in West Virginia

Every state has its own system of classifying crimes which also identifies the statutory punishments for each classification. West Virginia has two main criminal offense classifications, in order of seriousness: felonies and misdemeanors.

The only difference between felonies and misdemeanors in West Virginia’s criminal laws is that imprisonment sentences for felonies are served in state penitentiaries. Unlike many other states, West Virginia doesn’t break up felonies and misdemeanors into different classes or group offenses under specific penalty ranges. Instead, every offense carries its own statutory penalties in West Virginia.

West Virginia DUI Offenses

A DUI (driving under the influence) offense in West Virginia may involve intoxication and impaired driving from alcohol, drugs, medication or any combination of intoxicants. While there are proven methods to correlate impairment with a driver’s measurable blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level, the results of similar tests for drug-related impairment are not always reliable. Therefore, you could receive a DUI in West Virginia for exhibiting impaired driving behavior without needing a chemical test’s results to prove your impairment.

DUI offenses range from misdemeanors to felonies and may be penalized with fines, jail time, license suspension or revocation and mandatory rehabilitation, education and/or ignition interlock. Penalties increase exponentially when an impaired driver causes an accident that results in another person’s injury or death. Criminal penalties for each offense include:

  • Up to six months in jail and between $100 and $500 in fines for the first offense. Penalties are increased to between two days and six months in jail and between $200 and $1,000 in fines if your BAC is greater than 0.15 percent.
  • Between six months and one year in jail and between $1,000 and $3,000 in fines for the second offense.
  • Between two and five years in prison and between $3,000 and $5,000 in fines for the third and subsequent offenses.
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