HOW DOES A COURT DETERMINE WHETHER CRIMINAL DAMAGE TO AN AUTOMOBILE IS A FELONY OR MISDEMEANOR?
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. Jones, 802 P.2d 533 (Kan. 1990).
This case addresses the following issue:
How does a court determine whether criminal damage to an automobile is a felony or misdemeanor?
This case explored the issue of how a court decided whether criminal damage to an automobile was a felony or misdemeanor. In exploring this issue, the court held that the amount of damages determined whether the criminal damage was a felony or misdemeanor. Furthermore, the court concluded that the amount of damages to an automobile was established by restoring the vehicle to its prior condition, including cost of replacement parts plus installation, but not to exceed the total value of the automobile. Id. at 536-38.
In this case, the defendant was convicted of criminal damage to property. Id. at 535. On two separate occasions spanning three days, the defendant broke the windows in his ex-girlfriend’s 1977 Dodge Diplomat. Id. Following the first incident, the ex-girlfriend’s friend purchased replacement windows for $99 and charged her $55 for his labor (total $154). Id. at 536. At the time of the incident, any property damage over $150 was considered a felony (today, damage over $1,000 is considered a felony). Id. at 535-36. At trial, the plaintiff presented no evidence of the value of the 1977 Dodge automobile, just the evidence of the window replacement plus installation cost. Id. at 535. Nevertheless, the defendant was convicted of felony criminal damage to property. Id.
The defendant appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Kansas where he argued that the court should have determined the amount of damages by taking only the replacement window glass and not consider the amount paid for installation (this would have brought the damages down to $99 and would have been considered a misdemeanor). Id. at 536. In making this argument, the defendant referenced a Kansas case involving theft and damage to property. Id. In that case, the court held, “The rule that fair market value is the value to be used in determining whether a theft is a felony or a misdemeanor does not exclude other methods of determining value. Where the stolen property has a unique or restricted use and an extremely limited market, the actual or replacement cost to the one from whom it was stolen is proper evidence of value.” Id. In considering this statement, the defendant argued that the window glass had no unique or restricted use so the fair market value of only the window glass should be used in determining whether the crime was a felony or misdemeanor. Id.
In responding to the defendant’s argument, the court agreed that fair market value was the value to be used in determining value. Id. However, the court stated that the value of the 1977 Dodge Diplomat, not the replacement of the window glass, should be used. Id. Additionally, the court noted that in order to restore the Dodge to its condition prior to the defendant’s breaking out the windows, new window glass must be installed in the car. Id. Therefore, in determining whether the crime was a misdemeanor or felony, the value of the damage was the cost of replacement plus installation. Id.
In conclusion, a Kansas court will consider both the replacement cost plus installation when determining whether the value of damage rises to a felony. Id. However, the automobile cannot be damaged to an extent greater than its total value. Id. at 538.