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. Carter, 130 P.3d 135 (Kan. Ct. App. 2006).
This case addresses the following issue:
Does the value of the property need to be proven in a misdemeanor conviction of criminal damage to property?
This case explored the issue of whether the value of the property needed to be proven in a misdemeanor conviction of criminal damage to property. In exploring this case, the court concluded that the value need not be proven in a misdemeanor conviction of criminal damage to property. Id. at 139.
In this case, a woman was awakened by loud noises coming from her neighbor’s house. Id. at 136. Upon examining the neighbor’s house, the woman observed two individuals on the neighbor’s porch moving between the kitchen window and the back door of the house. Id. The woman called 911 and the police apprehended one of the individuals (defendant). Id. According to the homeowner, the porch was screened in on all sides, kept locked, and the homeowner never gave the defendant permission to enter the porch. Id. Upon further inspection, the State (plaintiff) found damage to the porch’s screen window, the screen of the kitchen window, and the back door of the residence. Id. At trial, a jury found the defendant guilty of misdemeanor criminal damage to property under $500. Id. at 137. The defendant later appealed the conviction to the Court of Appeals of Kansas. Id.
The defendant argued that the plaintiff failed to prove an essential element of criminal damage to property because it presented no evidence of the value of the damaged porch screen or door. Id. at 138. Furthermore, the defendant argued that his conviction for misdemeanor criminal damage to property was not supported by the evidence because the plaintiff never presented evidence of the value of the damage and therefore failed to prove an essential element of the crime. Id.
In response, the plaintiff argued that the value of the damage need not be proven for misdemeanor criminal damage. Id. In defending their argument, the plaintiff cited a Kansas statute which read, “Criminal damage to property is a class B nonperson misdemeanor if the property damaged is the value of less than $500 or is of the value of $500 or more and is damaged to the extent of less than $500.” Id. (Currently, any value under $1000 is a misdemeanor)
In reviewing both arguments, the Court of Appeals held that value need not be proven for a misdemeanor conviction of criminal damage to property. Id. at 139. However, the court did note that value must be determined for felony conviction of criminal damage to property. Id. at 138. In making their decision, the appellate court examined the Kansas statute stated above and concluded that it merely provided that the property damaged be less than $500 or is of the value of $500 or more and is damaged to the extent of less than $500. Id. at 139. According to the court, these monetary criteria have very little significance to a misdemeanor prosecution. Id. Therefore, the court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support the defendant’s conviction of misdemeanor criminal damage to property beyond a reasonable doubt. Id.