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Why states need to periodically adjust their charging guidelines

An experienced Missouri criminal defense attorney has many and varied responsibilities when called upon to forcefully represent an individual in a criminal law matter.

Closely investigating the state's case in all dimensions is an obvious focus. Did authorities have probable cause to interact with a client? Are there plausible challenges to the state's offered evidence? Did police officers comply with warrant requirements? Were all required steps and legal processes scrupulously followed?

A prominent spotlight also centers sometimes on charging-related matters, especially concerning the question of whether an alleged offense was properly categorized as a crime, with appropriate charges levied. Prosecutors do indeed file improper charges against criminal suspects, and with some regularity.

A recent Washington Post article addresses one particularly notable aspect relevant to charging, namely, the potential for inflation to unfairly affect a criminal law outcome.

What the Post piece fundamentally conveys is the unjust result realized when a defendant is sentenced under a law that was enacted in bygone times and never adjusted to reflect current realities.

That can have outsized implications for theft-related charges carrying a financial threshold that distinguishes a misdemeanor from a felony offense. For instance, stealing store merchandise in the amount of $299 is a misdemeanor, with theft of $300 or more being a felony and bringing a far more stringent sentencing outcome.

A central problem cited in the Post piece is that many states have either failed to revise their laws over time to account for inflation, or have done so only in an inadequate manner. To be sure, it is a far different thing for a defendant to be deemed a felon a quarter century ago for stealing a $300 piece of merchandize and being adjudged a felon in 2018 for the same offense.

Current Missouri law sets the money bar distinguishing misdemeanor versus felony charges in theft cases at $750. That financial threshold was enacted as an inflation-pegged statutory law in 2014, supplanting an earlier cut-off point of $500.00.

Charging decisions are obviously key matters in any criminal law case. An established defense attorney will always focus closely upon them, seeking an optimal outcome for a client.

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