The following summary is meant as a warning about how restitution hearings can go terribly wrong and epitomizes the manner in which our courts misunderstand restitution in a criminal case.
In the underlying case, our client was represented by the public defender, but when the sixty-seven-year-old victim indicated he was seeking over $10,000 in restitution, our client retained us.
In the underlying case, our client, then age 20, and her boyfriend, age 23, were picked up by a cab driver at the boyfriend’s home in Los Angeles. The taxi driver took them to Santa Monica, at which time our client’s boyfriend told the cab driver to wait for payment until after he and our client were done eating.
The cab driver did not agree to such a wait and wanted to be paid immediately. According to the cab driver, our client’s boyfriend then tried to walk away from the cab with our client. The cab driver jumped out of his cab and told the couple to stop and pay. The boyfriend then punched the cab driver, knocking him out cold on the sidewalk. The cab driver had no idea what happened next, but our client and her boyfriend were arrested.
Using the services of a public defender, our client agreed to a plea bargain to misdemeanor battery, but her boyfriend fled the state and never showed up for his arraignment, also at the Airport Courthouse. The case against the boyfriend was filed as a separate felony case and was set for an arraignment with a different judge.
At the time of the restitution hearing against just our client, the boyfriend remained missing. It was believed that he was in prison in New York for another matter and was serving a six- or eight-year sentence.
So, the restitution hearing proceeded against our client, despite objections from our office that joint and several liability did not apply because the boyfriend and our client were in separate cases, not the same case.
Such objections were overruled. In the hearing, the cab driver testified that he did not know if our client hit or kicked him. He also testified that he did not know if our client caused any injury to him.
He then testified that he had not paid any of the bills from anyone. He testified he could not pay for anything because he is too poor to afford to pay any of the bills.
Greg Hill argued thus that causation was obviously not proven, and causation must be established first and foremost. Greg cited to People v. Rivera
(1989) 212 Cal. App. 3d 1153, 1161 (victim’s damages must be caused by defendant and not someone else or the victim herself or himself) and People v. Richards
(1976) 17 Cal.3d 614, 622, 131 Cal.Rptr. 537, 552 P.2d 97 (defendant must cause the victim’s damages). The judge stated that causation did not need to be proven at all in a restitution hearing.
Incredulous at such a misstatement of the law, Greg then argued that the judge could not award any damages against our client because the taxi driver frankly testified that he had not paid any of the bills, so he had not sustained any of the alleged damages as is required under Government Code § 13957(c) (limiting restitution to the victim’s actual losses); People v. Scroggins
(1987) 191 Cal.App.3d at 506 (victim cannot recover value of tools he that were returned to him, not actual losses).
Greg argued that, as a practical matter, the victim very likely may end up negotiating down the bills and then just pocket the difference for himself, so the court should wait until the victim actually pays such bills and award that amount, if anything.
The biggest thing that the prosecution argued was that damages should be joint and several between our client and her boyfriend “as co-defendants.”
Greg responded that our client and her boyfriend were not co-defendants at all and cited the case number for each separate case. Therefore, joint and several liability could not apply.
The judge seemed to appreciate everything Greg said, but ruled that there was joint and several liability and that causation was not required, nor was proof of actual damages.
This case epitomizes the fact that our justice system does not always get things right.