Inference of Malice when a Firearm is Used
In Virginia, criminal law recognizes a principle known as the "permissible inference of malice" when a firearm is used in the commission of a crime. This principle allows the court to infer that the person who used a firearm during the crime acted with malice, which is an essential element in certain offenses such as murder and aggravated assault.
The rationale behind this principle is that firearms are inherently dangerous, and their use in a crime demonstrates a reckless disregard for human life. By using a firearm, the perpetrator creates a significant risk of harm or death to others, which can be reasonably interpreted as malice.
However, it is important to note that the permissible inference of malice is not a conclusive presumption. This means that the defendant has the opportunity to rebut this inference by presenting evidence to the contrary. The jury must weigh the evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defense to determine whether the defendant acted with malice during the commission of the crime.
In summary, the use of a firearm in a crime in Virginia can lead to a permissible inference of malice. This inference may be used by the prosecution to help establish the required element of malice in certain criminal offenses. However, the defendant has the right to present evidence to rebut this inference, and the ultimate determination of malice will be made by the jury based on the totality of the evidence presented.
This is explained in Virginia Model Criminal Jury Instruction No. 33.240 which states:
“You may, but are not required, to infer malice from the deliberate use of a deadly weapon unless, from all the evidence, you have a reasonable doubt as to whether malice existed.
A deadly weapon is any object or instrument, not part of the human body, that is likely to cause death or great bodily injury because of the manner and under the circumstances in which it is used.”