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Oops! Missouri's Messed Up Stealing Statute

Earlier this week, the Missouri Supreme Court issued a ruling that practically wiped the criminal offense of felony stealing off the books.  Most stealing offenses can now only be charged as misdemeanors.  This far-reaching decision will impact cases throughout Missouri in which defendants have been charged with or convicted of certain stealing offenses.

 The decision stems from the case of State of Missouri v. Bazella burglary and stealing case involving a defendant convicted of multiple felonies for the theft of firearms and other property. The court ruled the defendant’s convictions for stealing firearms, felonies in this instance, should be reduced to misdemeanors due to problematic wording in a section of Missouri’s stealing statute.  According to the court, the language that magically turns a misdemeanor stealing charge into a felony stealing charge is not applicable to the state’s definition of stealing and cannot be enforced.

Here's where the problems lies with Missouri's stealing law:

§ 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.”   -  That language right there is how the crime of stealing is defined in Missouri. Notice it says nothing about the value of the property stolen or the type of property stolen in that language.

However, subparagraph 3 of the stealing statute, which was added in 2002, classifies certain types of stealing offenses as Class C felonies which relate to “any offense in which the value of property or services is an element.

The problem with subparagraph 3, is that it attempts to raise the bar on certain stealing offenses by making them into felonies instead of misdemeanors based on the value of the stolen property or the type of property that is stolen.

 According to the court, the value of the stolen property or services is not an element of stealing - meaning that the language that describes the crime of stealing in subparagraph 1 makes no mention of the value or nature of the property. Therefore, subparagraph 3, which focuses on how misdemeanor theft becomes felony theft, is not applicable to the offense of stealing as defined in subparagraph 1.

So what does this court ruling mean?

Defendants 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.  In addition, Defendants currently facing charges for felony stealing may have their charges reduced to a misdemeanor.  Defendants currently appealing their felony convictions can use the ruling in their arguments to have their convictions overturned.

If someone you know has been convicted of felony stealing or is facing a felony stealing charge in Missouri, it is highly likely that this court ruling will have an impact on the outcome of their case.  Thanks for reading.


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