News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


State’s effort to make law sound scholarly goes awry

Alabama's law against second-degree theft of property now sounds downright erudite, but unfortunately it doesn't do its job.

In 2004, state Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, set out to delete references in the law to "horses," "mules," "asses," "jennies," "jacks" and "colts," replacing them with "equine or equidae." That's language of which even an Ivy League lawyer could be proud.

The problem was that the revised law picked up old limits of $250 to $1,000 for second-degree theft. This, according to The Associated Press, inadvertently wiped out the newer limits of $500 to $2,500. So it was no longer second-degree theft to steal property valued between $1,000 and $2,500.

Ever-resourceful prosecutors have been working around the loophole, and there's no indication that anyone has managed to steal, say, a nice computer or a digital camera and avoid the long arm of the law.

But clever lawyers exist on both sides of any case. Joseph Van Heest, president of the Alabama Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, was asked if he'd use the flawed law if defending a client. "I would probably argue that, yes, you can't be convicted," he said.

The loophole will eventually be closed, despite the fact that the Legislature failed to do so in 2005 because of filibusters on unrelated issues.

Actually, we like the old law better. Everybody knows what it means. As sages including the late Gov. George Wallace have observed, it's not a bad idea to "put the hay down where the goats can get it."

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