“Show Me” Your Statutory Language

“Show Me” Your Statutory Language

A woman walks into a couple Missouri homes, steals, is charged with two counts of first-degree burglary and four counts of stealing, three of which are designated as class C felonies, appeals and has two of her felony convictions reduced to misdemeanors, thanks to wonky wording in the felony enhancement provision of Missouri’s stealing statute.

After Amanda Bazell, a “prior and persistent offender,” was found guilty of stealing two firearms, rings valued at $8,000 and more, she was sentenced by the trial court to concurrent 12-year prison terms for the burglary and felony stealing convictions, plus one year in county jail for a misdemeanor stealing conviction. Her successful appeal in State v. Bazell not only reduced two of her felonies to misdemeanors but also has implications for others charged with felony stealing convictions in Missouri after 2002  due to the state’s fateful amendment of the statutory language that year.

According to the ruling, it comes down to two provisions in Missouri’s criminal code. While the state and defendant were busy arguing whether a class A misdemeanor can become a class C felony if “any firearms” are among the stolen property and the meaning of “any firearms” as it relates to whether cumulative punishments were permissible, the court was focused elsewhere.

“This reading of section 570.030.3, however, critically ignores the fact that the felony enhancement provision, by its own terms, only applies if the offense is one ‘in which the value of the property or services is an element.’ Stealing is defined in section 570.030.1 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.’ The value of the property or services appropriated is not an element of the offense of stealing. “

For the court, no interpretation was necessary: Two of Bazell’s offenses could not be enhanced to felonies; they had to be classified as misdemeanors.

Furthermore, the court expressed wonder at why the legislature amended the section “to add the requirement that only offenses for which ‘the value of property or services is an element’ may be enhanced to a felony.” Regardless, it found that the legislature made the change “clearly and unambiguously.”

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