Newly updated Missouri criminal codes that take effect Dec. 31 will “correct” a recent ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court that invalidated many felony stealing charges, Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Bob Parks said.
Until then, Parks said his office will continue reviewing charges in pending felony stealing cases.
“We’re having to go back and amend charges in certain cases,” Parks said.
In cases where people are facing felony charges for stealing vehicles, the office is amending those to tampering with a motor vehicle, also a felony, Parks explained.
In other pending stealing cases, charges are being changed to receiving or possession of stolen property.
In another example, the prosecutor’s office recently amended charges against a defendant accused of embezzling a large amount of money from felony stealing to felony forgery, Parks explained.
In cases where a person is charged with burglary and stealing, the prosecutor’s office is proceeding with the felony burglary charge, he noted.
The problem stems from the High Court’s recent ruling in the appeal of a woman’s conviction for stealing firearms, jewelry and other items. The court found that two of the convictions were really misdemeanors due to what it termed contradictory language in Missouri’s criminal code following a change made by the Legislature over 14 years ago.
Parks said the court, in its ruling, specifically stated that the value of an item is not an element of a felony offense.
The court’s ruling, Parks said, will be moot after Dec. 31 because Missouri’s updated criminal code eliminates any language making value an element of a stealing crime.
In the meantime, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has requested a new hearing on the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Koster’s motion asks the court to evaluate the Legislature’s intent beyond its initial plain language analysis, arguing that the judges “should have looked beyond the purported plain language of the statute in order to avoid an absurd or illogical result.”
The result is absurd, according to the motion, because the Missouri Legislature has continued to amend the felony stealing law to include other charges, including the theft of certain chemicals, historical documents and explosive weapons.
“But if the Court’s analysis in this case is followed to its logical conclusion, then the theft of such property was merely a misdemeanor, and the General Assembly was merely making meaningless additions to the list of specific types of property that constitute Class C felony stealing,” the motion says.