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. Maxon, 79 P.3d 202 (Kan. Ct. App. 2003).
This case addresses the following issue:
Should a defendant who receives a gift from an individual be found guilty of theft if the defendant knows the individual lacks the mental capacity to consent to giving the gift?
This case explored the issue of whether a defendant who received a gift from an individual could be convicted of theft because the defendant knew the individual giving the gift lacked the consent to do so. In exploring this issue, the court held that a defendant could not be convicted of theft in this situation because it was not what the Kansas lawmakers intended the theft statute to encompass. Id. at 210.
In this case, the victim was a recent widow and had substantial assets valued in the millions of dollars. Id. at 204-05. Shortly after her husband’s death, the victim befriended a family who had done business with her husband in the past (the defendants are two members of this family). Id. at 205. Shortly after the victim befriended the family, the defendant began writing checks to and purchasing property for the defendants. Id. With this said, the specific theft charges in this case involved: (1) the sale of the victim’s house to the defendants; and (2) the defendants purchase of a new truck. Id. The victim sold her house to the defendants for well below asking price and the victim bought a $39,000 new pickup truck for the defendants. Id. Eventually, the victim severed her relationship with the defendants after she gave them both $25,000 checks for Christmas and they did not give her anything in return. Id. Around this time, the victim reconciled her relationship with her son, and he began to look into her financial affairs. Id. Additionally, the victim was diagnosed with several mental disorders which led her to be vulnerable to the influence of others. Id. at 206. Subsequently, the victim filed a lawsuit against the defendants and they were convicted of two counts of theft and one count of mistreatment of a dependent adult. Id. at 204. In response, the defendants appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals of Kansas. Id. at 206.
According to the trial court, the stolen property included the house and the $39,000 in connection with the pickup truck. Id. at 209. Additionally, the trial court held that the defendants were guilty of theft because they “obtained or exerted unauthorized control over property.” Id. On appeal, the defendants argued that they were not guilty of theft because they obtained control over the property with the victim’s permission. Id. In responding to the defendants’ arguments, the Court of Appeals of Kansas had to determine whether “obtaining or exerting unauthorized control over property” encompassed doing so with the consent of the original owner. Id. In addressing this point, the court noted that the State (plaintiff) wanted the court to create a definition of “unauthorized control” that included a consensual transfer from a donor who lacked mental capacity. Id. Essentially, the State wanted an individual to be found guilty of theft if they took advantage of a person who lacked the mental capacity to voluntarily give a gift. Id. In the end, the court determined that they needed to determine what the lawmakers were intending when they wrote the statute for theft. Id. at 210. In considering these intentions, the court held that the lawmakers did not intend for this type of situation to be considered theft. Id. According to the court, the lawmakers would not have created a statute for mistreatment of a dependent adult had they wanted this type of situation to be considered theft. Id.
In conclusion, the court held that the defendants were guilty of mistreatment of a dependent adult but not guilty of theft. Id. at 211.