Restitution Owed When Probation Terminated, Case Dismissed?

Restitution is an often misunderstood issue in criminal cases.  Many defendants easily understand the concept of being ordered to, for example, pay direct restitution to a homeowner for a broken window in a vandalism case or medical bills for a victim of battery.

Less well understood is the fact that “restitution” can be paid to a court and not one penny goes to anyone harmed by defendant’s conduct.  For example, in every felony, the minimum restitution fine was $200 in 2011 (Penal Code § 1202.4 (b) (1)).  In 2012, this minimum amount went up to $240; $280 in 2013; and will be $300 beginning January 1, 2014.  The purpose of such fines is punishment; whereas direct victim restitution’s purpose is reimbursement.

In Riverside County in 2008, Laura Holman was charged with violating Health and Safety Code § 11379(a) (sale and transportation of methamphetamine), § 11377 (possession of methamphetamine), passing a counterfeit bill (Penal Code § 475(a)), misdemeanor sales of marijuana and possession of a controlled drug without a prescription.  A plea bargain was reached wherein she pled to a single charge of possession of methamphetamine only.  She was placed on thirty-six months of probation, ordered to pay $200 in a restitution fine and ordered to pay various fines and fees.

In February, 2009 Holman picked up a new drug charge and was sentenced to 90 days in Riverside County jail.  Later in 2009, after Holman finished her custody time, she violated probation again, but was reinstated on probation.  Yet again in 2009, Holman picked up another case for possession of methamphetamine (Health and Safety Code § 11377(a)).  Holman agreed to a plea bargain at the arraignment and was placed on 36 months of probation again, contingent upon payment of a $200 restitution fine under Penal Code § 1202.4(b).  She was also ordered to complete a drug and alcohol treatment program under Proposition 36 (Penal Code § 1210.1 and 3063.1 and Health and Safety code § 11999.4).

In 2010, Holman was arrested and charged once again, this time for two counts of receiving a stolen vehicle (Penal Code § 496d(a)).  Holman again pled to a plea bargain quickly and the court sentenced her to the upper term of three years in state prison on each count, with the second three year term to run concurrent with the first term.  Execution of the sentence was suspended, however (“joint suspended”), and Holman was ordered to formal probation for 36 months and order to complete the ROC (Recovery Opportunity Center) Program. 

Holman was promised by the judge that if she completed the ROC Program, she could withdraw her plea and have the case dismissed under Penal Code § 1203.4.

In September, 2011, Holman graduated from the ROC program and the drug court terminated her probation early.  In each of her prior cases, payment of restitution fines were suspended.  The court then dismissed all of the cases (not just most recent case). 

The prosecution objected, arguing that Holman was still required to pay all restitution fines.  The judge overruled the objection.

The prosecution appealed the ruling to the Fourth Appellate District.  The prosecution argued that suspending or dismissing the restitution fine is not a permitted discretionary sentencing choice for a judge to select.  The Appellate District disagreed, finding that “in the interests of justice,” the trial court had discretion to relieve a defendant of such an obligation.  People v. McLernon (2009) 174 Cal. App. 4th 569.

It merits mention that in the court of Appeal’s ruling (People v. Laura Michelle Holman 2013 DJDAR 4221), the Fourth Appellate District noted two things wrong with the prosecution’s appeal arguments.  First, probation was terminated early, so once this happened, the court had no further discretion to deny a motion for relief under 1203.4, so there really could be no abuse of discretion.  Second, the restitution fines were not properly “suspended” because in each case, Holman did not have a conviction because she was granted diversion. 

This ruling is a good ruling for defendants in general, but it surely had to upset the prosecution, especially because 1203.4 relief only applies to convictions and insofar as this is true, the Fourth Appellate District’s critique of the prosecution seems itself vulnerable to attack.

For more information about restitution, click on the following articles:
  1. Restitution to Victim Cannot Be Increased After Probation Ends, Even if Victim Sues Defendant in Civil Lawsuit and Wins Millions
  2. Restitution Order Can Apply to One Who Receives Stolen Property, but Does Not Participate in Burglary
  3. In Juvenile Vandalism Case Involving Graffiti, Restitution Cannot Include Investigation Costs
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