In Vandalism, Does Restitution Include Investigative Costs?
Luis M. later entered into a plea bargain wherein he was placed on deferred entry of judgment (DEJ) probation for twelve to thirty-six months under Welfare and Institutions Code § 790. As part of the plea bargain, Luis M. was also ordered to pay restitution for the damage he caused.Brief Synopsis: Restitution in a vandalism case can possibly include investigative costs, but the victim must show some rational basis for the costs and that such costs were attributable to the specific case at issue. In the following case summary, the victim (a city) did not do this and the restitution award was vacated.
At the restitution hearing, a police officer from the City of Lancaster testified that, using a “restitution model,” he determined that the amount Luis M. owed was $3,881.88. The trial court, Judge Benny C. Osorio, accepted this amount as proper and ordered Luis M. to pay this amount.
The Second Appellate District, in Luis M. v. The Los Angeles Superior Court (2012) 210 Cal.App.4th 982, 148 Cal. Rptr. 3d 795 (2012 DJDAR 15097) reviewed the trial court’s ruling using the “abuse of discretion” standard. The court noted first that great deference is afforded a restitution award amount because “a victim’s restitution right is to be broadly and liberally construed.”
Indeed, our experience in challenging any prosecution evidence offered at a restitution hearing is usually met with disfavor from the judge. For example, we may argue that the expenses were not related to our client and the judge patiently listens to us, but rules in favor of the victim. The court often views such hearings as one-sided affairs. If a defendant challenges any amount or testimony, the judge is usually surprised and inclined to overrule any such objection. This obviously can be frustrating when it is clear that the victim is seeking a windfall and exaggerating expenses to a sympathetic judge who may be inclined to grant such an award as really only further punishment to defendant.
Turning to the trial court’s award of $3,881.88, the appellate court found it was too high. The City of Lancaster, after all, included in the sum law enforcement costs. These were not attributable to the losses of the mobile home park. Indeed, the Lancaster Sheriff’s Department was not a direct victim of Luis M.’s graffiti.
Luis M. also argued that the police officer from the City of Lancaster failed to testify about what costs were actually expended to clean up his graffiti. The appellate court agreed with Luis M. on this, too. The police officer testified only to general costs that the City of Lancaster spent, but not to specific cleanup of Luis M.’s vandalism.
Consequently, the appellate court granted the writ of mandate. It ordered that the lower court, the juvenile court, vacate its restitution order and hold a new restitution hearing with more testimony as to any investigative costs that were directly related to Luis M.’s alleged vandalism.
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