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Copyright (c) 2000 By the School of Law, Washington & Lee University
Washington & Lee Law Review

NOTE: Predicate Offenses for First Degree Felony Murder in Virginia

Spring, 2000

57 Wash & Lee L. Rev. 561


Richard Brooks Holcomb*


I. Introduction

The Virginia Code's indeterminant definition of first degree felony murder 3 is in serious need of revision. The statute, 18.2-32, provides:

Murder, other than capital murder, by poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, or by any willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or in the commission of, or attempt to commit, arson, rape, forcible sodomy, inanimate or animate object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary or abduction, except as provided in 18.2-31, is murder of the first degree, punishable as a Class 2 felony. 4

The numerous amendments made over the years to the first degree murder statute, the capital murder statute, and related chapters and articles in the Code have combined to produce an unfortunate statutory tangle. 5 Inconsistency within the text of 18.2-32 and a series of incongruous intersections with other relevant portions of the Code combine to defeat traditional methods of statutory interpretation. 6 Section 18.2-32's principal defect is the reference system for the predicate offenses; the ambiguities in the statute create interpretive problems that, under extreme readings, would allow Class 5 and Class 6 felonies and even misdemeanors to serve as predicate offenses for first degree felony murder. 7 In its current form, Virginia's first degree felony murder statute fails essential standards of statutory drafting for failing to inform readers of the scope of first degree felony murder predicate offenses. 8 This failure to inform the public of which ...
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