The state appeals court in Kansas City on Tuesday ordered reduced sentences for two men — including one who now could be released soon from the Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City.
Stealing charges were the main factor in both cases.
And in both cases, the three-judge appeals court panels issuing this week's opinions cited last summer's state Supreme Court ruling that a 2002 change in state law blocked prosecutors from raising misdemeanor stealing charges to a felony.
In last summer's case, known as State v. Bazell, the Missouri Supreme Court's 10-page opinion included a finding the Legislature's 2002 amendment to the stealing law made stealing a felony crime only when "the value of property or services is an element" of the crime.
And, the high court ruled, "stealing is not an 'offense in which the value of property or services is an element,' and therefore none of the enhancements listed in (the state law) apply to the offense of stealing."
Judge Alok Ahuja wrote both opinions released Tuesday, though he was the only judge who heard both cases.
Two weeks ago, Judge Mark Pfeiffer cited the same Supreme Court case in another appeals court order reducing Ann Metternich's Cole County felony conviction for stealing tuxedos to a misdemeanor.
In one case, Christopher Culp had pleaded guilty in St. Louis County to stealing property on Jan. 9, 2011 — more than five years before the Bazell ruling — that was worth more than $500.
The St. Louis County Circuit Court classified Culp's case as a Class C felony and, on Oct. 19, 2011, sentenced him to four years in prison.
He was released on parole on Sept. 28, 2012, but failed to report to his parole officer. In April 2016, he was arrested and placed at Algoa in eastern Cole County.
Last September, Culp asked the Cole County Circuit Court to order his release, citing the then new Bazell ruling and arguing his original conviction should have been for a misdemeanor, which carried a maximum of one year in prison.
He argued he should be released from prison immediately. However, Circuit Judge Dan Green denied the habeas corpus request, ordering Culp to remain in prison.
Culp asked the appeals court to order his release, and Tuesday's ruling ordered him to "be unconditionally released from the State's custody upon issuance of our mandate."
However, there's no set date for when that mandate could be issued.
The court first has to deal with post-opinion motions, and the losing party — in Culp's case, Algoa Warden Scott Lawrence, represented by the attorney general's office — has 15 days to file a motion for a rehearing and/or an application to transfer the case to the Supreme Court.
If no motion is filed, the appeals court could issue its mandate after the 15th day.
If a motion is filed, the court has to rule on that motion.
However, if the motion is an application for transfer — and the appeals court denies it — then the losing party has another 15 days to make another transfer application directly to the high court.
If the Supreme Court takes the case, then written briefs and oral arguments usually are scheduled, followed by the court's deliberation on the ruling.
As Kansas City appeals court clerk Terence Lord explained: "The process could take awhile."
In the other case, Charles Baldwin was, after a two-day trial in Cass County, convicted of stealing a handgun from his live-in girlfriend's parents' house and of tampering with a victim in the case.
The jury found him guilty of felonies, and Baldwin was sentenced to five years in prison.
However, because of the Bazell ruling, the appeals court on Tuesday ruled Baldwin should be guilty only of a misdemeanor stealing charge, also automatically reducing the tampering charge to a misdemeanor.
The appeal court ordered the Cass County court to resentence Baldwin in his case.
The Bazell case likely will have a limited impact on stealing cases, because the new criminal code lawmakers passed in 2014 — and that became effective Jan. 1 — restored the language that was in state law before the 2002 wording change.
So, charges filed in stealing cases since Jan. 1 likely won't face the same legal issues raised in the Bazell case.