The Bazell Effect
October 7th, 2016
The Bazell Effect
Felony Stealing – Section 570.030.1
By: Benjamin A. McBride and Heather Rooney McBride
On August 23, 2016, the Supreme Court of Missouri handed down its opinion in State v. Bazell, SC95318 (Mo. banc Aug. 23, 2016) making the crime of felony stealing obsolete (for now, anyway).
Section 570.030, RSMo., was thought to have provided the essential elements for the crime of stealing. Specifically, Section 570.030.1 provides that “a person commits the crime of stealing if he or she appropriates property or services of another with the purpose to deprive him or her thereof, either without his or her consent or by means of deceit or coercion.” Traditionally, the criminal justice system had established that such a crime could be enhanced to a felony if it fell within one of the subsections of Section 570.030.3, the most common of which were:
(1) The value of the property or services appropriated is five hundred dollars or more but less than twenty-five thousand dollars; or
(2) The actor physically takes the property appropriated from the person of the victim; or
(3) The property appropriated consists of:
(a) Any motor vehicle, watercraft or aircraft; or
(b) Any will or unrecorded deed affecting real property; or
(c) Any credit card or letter of credit; or
(d) Any firearms.
In Bazell, the defendant appealed his convictions on two counts of felony stealing of firearms, supporting his argument with the premise that a person has a constitutional protection from double jeopardy. While the Court entertained the defendant’s argument on appeal, it did not provide any deciding opinion; instead, it found an entirely unrelated flaw in the statute.
The Supreme Court’s opinion in Bazell reads as follows:
“This reading of section 570.030.3… 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.
In ascertaining what the phrase “in which the value of the property or services is an element” means, this Court employs the primary rule of statutory interpretation, which is to give effect to the plain and ordinary meaning of the statutory language. State ex rel. Valentine v. Orr, 366 S.W.3d 534, 540 (Mo. banc 2012). If the words are clear, the Court must apply the plain meaning of the law. Id. When the meaning of a statute is clear, the Court should not employ canons of construction to achieve a desired result. Goerlitz v. City of Maryville, 333. S.W.3d 450, 455 (Mo. banc 2011).
Here, there is no need to resort to tools of interpretation because the language of section 570.030.3 is clear. We cannot know why the legislature, in 2002, decided to amend section 570.030.3 to add the requirement that only offenses for which “the value of property or services is an element” may be enhanced to a felony, but this is what the legislature clearly and unambiguously did.2 As a result, section 570.030.3 does not apply here. Defendant’s offenses must be classified as misdemeanors because they cannot be enhanced to felonies by the terms of section 570.030.3.3 The two felony convictions for the firearms stolen must be reversed and the case remanded.
Please give our firm a call today if you, or someone you know, has plead guilty to or been convicted of the crime of felony stealing. Based on the Bazell decision, there may be recourse available, and retaining the services of an informed attorney to assist you is paramount.