An Exercise In Statutory Interpretation

I had a potential client come into my office and explain that she was accused of stealing $1,200.00 from her employer. So I go to the code to see what level of crime that is; i.e. whether it is first or second degree theft. What I find is this:

§ 13A-8-5. Theft of property in the third degree.

(a) The theft of property which does not exceed five hundred dollars ($500) in value and which is not taken from the person of another constitutes theft of property in the third degree.

§ 13A-8-4. Theft of property in the second degree.

(a) The theft of property which exceeds two hundred fifty dollars ($250) in value but does not exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000) in value, and which is not taken from the person of another, constitutes theft of property in the second degree.

§ 13A-8-3. Theft of property in the first degree.

(a) The theft of property which exceeds two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500) in value, or property of any value taken from the person of another, constitutes theft of property in the first degree.

In short, the amount my client allegedly stole is not covered by the theft statutes. Third degree is anything up to $500.00. Second degree is any amount “which exceeds two hundred fifty dollars ($250) in value but does not exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000).” First degree is anything “which exceeds two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500).” $1,200.00 does exceed $1,000.00 but does not exceed $2,500.00. Thus, it is not covered by these three statutes.

So, all you strict constructionists, suppose my client is charged with theft, and the state proves that the client knowingly obtained or exerted unauthorized control over the property of another, with intent to deprive the owner of his or her property, thus satsifying the definition of theft (Ala. Code 13A-8-2(1)). But the state also proves the value of the theft was $1,200.00.

You are the judge, I ask you to dismiss the case because stealing that amount of money is not prohibited by statute; it is neither first, nor second, not third degree theft. What do you do?

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2 Comments on “An Exercise In Statutory Interpretation”

  1. Beau' Says:

    In this case it’d be a glitch in the statute itself. But although the statute does not cover the amount of $1,200 which I presume it was proved to be your client who stole it. I wouldn’t dismiss the case just because the statute doesn’t cover that amount. Theft is a crime already and it’s just the matter of finding the gravity of the harm and punish accordingly.

  2. Vanessa Says:

    Hmm. I’m just a first-year student in New Zealand. I think that the crime fits the definition of theft obviously and is accordingly still a valid charge, but because it is not described as third, second or first degree theft it can be assumed that it is simply some ‘other’ kind of theft. First obviously I would cite common law authority (but are you in America? If so, try to find a relevant statute) and if nothing directed me, I would create an according charge as happens with tort damages.


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