Malicious and Unlawful Wounding in Virginia

The basics of the crimes of malicious and unlawful wounding.

By , Attorney

This article discusses Virginia's criminal laws that prohibit malicious and unlawful wounding, as well as the penalties they carry.

Malicious and Unlawful Wounding Crimes in Virginia

Virginia law makes it a crime for a person to intentionally wound or cause bodily injury to another person with the intent to maim, disable, disfigure, or kill them. Wounding requires that the offender breaks the victim's skin with a weapon. Bodily injury, on the other hand, has no such requirements.

Prosecutors charge this unlawful behavior as malicious wounding or unlawful wounding based on the defendant's intent, as explained below.

What Is Malicious Wounding?

Under Virginia's laws, a person commits the crime of malicious wounding by:

  • maliciously
  • stabbing, shooting, cutting, wounding, or otherwise causing bodily injury to another person
  • with the intent to kill, disfigure, maim, or disable them.

People act maliciously if they intentionally or purposely commit a wrong or cruel act. Some court cases describe malice as deliberately harming someone unprovoked.

Oftentimes, both malice and intent to kill can be inferred based on the circumstances of the offense. For example, beating someone up because the person touched your car would probably be considered acting maliciously. If the victim suffered very serious injuries, such as multiple broken bones, a court or jury would probably find the intent to kill or maim.

What Is Unlawful Wounding?

Unlawful wounding occurs when a defendant, with the intent to maim, disfigure, disable, or kill a person, causes bodily injury to a victim but without acting maliciously. Committing the act without malice is the only difference between unlawful and malicious wounding.

Unlawful acts are described as committed recklessly, impulsively, or provoked through anger or fear. For example, if the defendant threw a beer bottle into a group of people and someone gets cut, that might be considered unlawful wounding. Or if someone hits another after seeing that person hit their kid, the provocation factor might make the crime unlawful wounding rather than malicious wounding.

What Are the Penalties for Malicious and Unlawful Wounding?

Both malicious and unlawful wounding are felony offenses. Penalties for malicious wounding may increase depending on the nature and gravity of the offense, as well as the circumstances surrounding it. For instance, stiffer penalties may be imposed in cases where the victim falls within a certain group of people or the offender uses certain types of weapons.

Malicious Wounding and Unlawful Wounding

The penalty for malicious wounding, without any aggravating circumstances or special factors, is a Class 3 felony, which incurs a $100,000 fine and 5 to 20 years in prison.

A person convicted of unlawful wounding faces a Class 6 felony, which carries one to five years in prison or one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Aggravated Malicious Wounding

The crime of aggravated malicious wounding is committed when the victim of a malicious wounding crime suffers permanent and significant physical impairment or the termination of a pregnancy. For example, cutting someone in the face with a razor and causing permanent scarring would likely be considered aggravated malicious wounding. Aggravated malicious wounding constitutes a Class 2 felony with penalties of 20 years to life in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Malicious Wounding Involving Protected Employees

Malicious wounding is punished more severely when committed against certain protected employees who are engaged in the performance of public duties and who the defendant knows (or has reason to know) are protected employees. Protected employees include:

  • law enforcement officers
  • firefighters
  • search and rescue personnel, and
  • emergency medical services personnel.

When the victim falls into one of these categories, the defendant faces a felony conviction that carries 5 to 30 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. The law also imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of two years' imprisonment.

Malicious Wounding by Acid, Lye, Fire, or Explosive

A defendant who uses acid, lye, explosives, fire, or other caustic substances or agents to maliciously wound another is guilty of a felony, subjecting them to 5 to 30 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Malicious Wounding Involving a Firearm

Using, attempting to use, or displaying in a threatening manner a firearm while committing or attempting to commit malicious wounding is a separate felony. Such a felony subjects a guilty defendant to a mandatory minimum term of three years in prison for a first offense and five years for a second or subsequent offense. Furthermore, that prison sentence must run consecutively (one after another) to any imprisonment term the defendant receives for the commission of the primary felony.

Defenses to Malicious and Unlawful Wounding Charges

Defendants charged with malicious or unlawful wounding in Virginia have several potential defenses available to them.

Actual Innocence

Defendants charged with a malicious or unlawful wounding crime have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as "Someone else committed this crime," or "The alleged conduct did not occur."

No Malicious Intent

Malicious wounding requires that the defendant maliciously and intentionally used a weapon to cause the necessary harm. If the prosecutor is unable to establish the defendant acted with malice when engaging in unlawful conduct, the defendant is not guilty of malicious wounding. They can still be guilty of a lesser offense, such as unlawful wounding, strangulation, battery, or assault, depending on the circumstances and nature of the offense.


Self-defense is an affirmative defense in malicious or unlawful wounding cases. In this situation, the defendant admits to the act but argues it was necessary to defend themselves from the initial aggressor, the injured victim. To be a viable defense, the defendant must reasonably believe the conduct is necessary to avoid harm to themselves.

(Va. Code §§ 18.2-10, -51, -51.1, -51.2, -51.6, -52, -53 (2022).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you're facing a charge for malicious or unlawful wounding, or a related offense, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area as soon as possible. A lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution's case against you and help develop any defenses that might apply to the unique circumstances of your case. A knowledgeable attorney can also advise you on how the law will apply to your set of facts.

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