Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
State v. Wilson, 275 P.3d 51 (Kan. Ct. App. 2008).
This case addresses the following issue:
Does the Kansas criminal damage to property statute cover damage a defendant inflicts to property owned partly by the defendant?
This case explored the issue of whether the Kansas criminal damage to property statute covered damage a defendant inflicted to property owned partly by the defendant. In exploring this case, the court held that the fact the defendant had a marital interest in the damaged car did not prevent the court from finding her guilty of criminal damage to property. Id. at 55.
In this case, a husband and wife were in the middle of going through a divorce. Id. at 52. While the husband was visiting a friend, the wife arrived at the friend’s house and the two began arguing about the divorce. Id. After the wife became angry, she drove her vehicle into her husband’s vehicle three times causing significant damage. Id. Both the husband and wife had interest in both of the cars. Id. As a result, the trial court judge held that the plaintiff had not met its burden establishing probable cause that the crime of criminal damage had been committed because the wife had a marital interest in the car she damaged. Id. at 54. As a result, the plaintiff appealed the trial court’s decision and argued that the fact that the wife had a marital interest in the damaged car did not prevent the plaintiff from prosecuting her for criminal damage to property under the Kansas statute. Id.
The Court of Appeals of Kansas heard the appeal and determined that the key question was whether the criminal damage to property statute covered damage one inflicted to property partly owned by oneself. Id. at 53-54. In addressing this question, the court noted that the only way to resolve it would be to analyze the statute in question. Id. at 54. According to the statute, “Criminal damage to property is by means other than by fire or explosive intentionally injuring, damaging, mutilating, defacing, destroying, or substantially impairing the use of any property in which another has an interest without the consent of such other person.” Id. at 53. Based on this statute, the court looked to “intentional damage to any property in which another has an interest without that person’s consent” and determined that the statute was clear and unambiguous and covered the wife’s actions on the night in question. Id. at 54.
In addition to analyzing the Kansas statute, the court also looked to other state’s rulings in similar cases. Id. In Gooch v. The State, the defendant was convicted of criminal damage to property and argued he could not be guilty when he damaged joint marital property. Id. In response, the court construed the words “any property of another person” to mean that property partially owned by another to be sufficient to establish the offense. Id. Additionally, the Gooch court concluded that the plaintiff need only show that a person other than the defendant had a legal right to possess or occupy the property. Id.
In conclusion, the trial court was wrong in not finding the wife guilty of criminal damage to property. Id. at 55. The fact the wife had a marital interest in the car she damaged did not save her from conviction. Id.