Earlier this week, the Missouri Supreme Court issued a ruling that packed
a powerful impact – it makes most theft offenses misdemeanors rather
than felonies. The far-reaching decision may impact cases throughout the
state in which individuals have been charged with or convicted of certain
The decision stems from
State v. Bazell, a burglary case involving a woman convicted of multiple felonies for
theft of a firearm and other property. In the case, the court ruled the
woman’s firearm felonies should be reduced to misdemeanors due to
problematic wording in a section of Missouri’s criminal code. According
to the court, the language is not applicable to the state’s definition
The decision specifically focuses on two conflicting passages in the code:
- § 570.030.1 – Subparagraph 1 defines stealing as “appropriat[ing]
property or services of another with the purpose to deprive him or her
thereof, either without his consent or by means of deceit or coercion.”
- § 570.030.3 – Subparagraph 3, which was added as an enhancement
to the code in 2002, classifies certain types of crimes as Class C felonies
which relate to “any offense in which the value of property or services
is an element.”
As cited in the opinion, courts must apply the plain meaning of the law
when the words are clear. The problem with subparagraph 3 as it written,
is that enhancement is applied in cases “in which the value of the
property or services is an element,” which is not how Missouri defines
stealing in subparagraph 1.
According to the court, the value of property or services stolen is not
an element of stealing. Therefore, subparagraph 3, which focuses on how
enhancements should be applied to certain theft crimes, is not relevant
to stealing offenses. Because the section is not relevant, the Missouri
Supreme Court ruled that the woman’s convictions for theft of a
firearm could not be enhanced to felonies and must be classified as misdemeanors.
The decision could have far-reaching implications in similar cases, including:
- Individuals convicted of certain felony theft crimes may be able to have
their convictions reduced to misdemeanors if the crimes occurred after
2002, when the problematic language was added.
- Defendants currently facing charges for theft crimes impacted by the ruling
may be charged with misdemeanors rather than felonies.
appealing applicable felony convictions can use the ruling in their arguments.
- While there are a number of theft crimes impacted by the ruling –
including theft of explosives, credit cards, vehicles, and more –
it does not apply to all theft crimes, including cases involving a third offense.
The decision is an exceptional exercise in how criminal law is not always
as rigid as it may seem. As it highlights the power and scope of written
law, it also reveals that this power can be augmented by the fluidity
of how we interpret and apply its meaning. Because of this decision, the
way courts handle these cases will now change, and this change will remain
until a new law takes effect, or a new precedent set.
It’s a great reminder that law is constantly evolving and that it
is not infallible – it can be challenged. It can also serve as a
reminder about the importance of proofreading.
As courts and attorneys prepare to deal with the impact of this decision,
a fix is already in the works as part of a sweeping rewrite of the state’s
criminal code, which removes the section at issue. Crimes that were impacted
will once again be felonies when the new criminal law takes effect on
January 1, 2017.
If you or someone you love have been convicted of a felony theft crime,
or if charges are currently pending, our team is available to help! Our
attorneys can review your case, discuss your rights and how the recent
ruling may apply, and formulate the best course of action.
Contact us today for a FREE consultation!