The Missouri Supreme Court issued a ruling that had the effect of making most stealing offenses no longer felonies, thanks to an apparently inadvertent change to state law in 2002. The far-reaching decision sent criminal defense attorneys across the state scrambling, Talking Points Memo reports. The case, State v. Bazell, was brought by a woman who had been convicted of several felonies for stealing firearms in a burglary case. The court said the firearm felonies should be knocked down to misdemeanors because a portion of the state’s criminal code designating certain types of offenses as felonies is written in a way that doesn’t make it applicable to the state’s definition of stealing.
“If the words are clear, the Court must apply the plain meaning of the law,” the opinion said. “When the meaning of a statute is clear, the Court should not employ canons of construction to achieve a desired result.” Because of the ruling, Missourians who have been charged with felonies for a number of types of stealing offenses stand to have their convictions knocked down to misdemeanors, according to the public defender for defendant in Bazell. Ellen Flottman of the Missouri State Public Defender System said the opinion was “very broad” and applies not just to firearm charges involved in the case, but to an assortment of stealing crimes previously treated as felonies in the criminal code. “Those are going to be misdemeanors as well,” she said.