Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Justices Overturn Restitution Order to Estate as ‘Victim’
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The state Supreme Court yesterday unanimously agreed with a drunk driver’s argument that the estate of the man he killed when he drove the wrong way on the freeway was not a “victim” entitled to restitution.
The court overturned a $446,486 restitution award against Paul Dean Runyan in favor of the estate of Donald Benge, who left no heirs or relatives. The trial judge and Div. Eight of this district’s Court of Appeal had reasoned that the estate only existed because of Runyan’s crime, and was thus entitled to restitution.
But Justice Marvin Baxter, writing for the high court, said an estate cannot be a victim. An administrator of an estate can be a victim, and may recover restitution for expenses the administrator personally occurred, or for losses the victim suffered prior to death, but in this case there were no such losses, the justice said.
Benge was killed in a head-on collision in the early morning hours of April 6, 2007 on the 134 Freeway when Runyan attempted to drive home from a nightclub while intoxicated.
Runyan had already traveled one mile in the wrong direction when he struck Benge’s vehicle, which was travelling behind a California Highway Patrol vehicle that pulled over to the right shoulder of the freeway to avoid Runyan.
Runyan escaped with only minor injuries, and was charged with murder, gross vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence causing injury and driving under the influence with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or greater causing injury. A jury acquitted him of murder in 2008, but convicted him on the other charges, and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marcelita Haynes ordered restitution to Benge’s estate under Penal Code Sec. 1202.4.
The statute implements a 1982 voter-approved initiative which established a state constitutional right for crime victims to receive restitution from convicted defendants who caused a victim economic loss. It defines a “victim” as immediate surviving family and “[a]ny corporation, business trust, estate, trust, partnership, association, joint venture, government, governmental subdivision, agency, or instrumentality, or any other legal or commercial entity when that entity is a direct victim of a crime.”
Runyan argued that Benge, and not the estate, was the only “direct victim.”
“As defendant observes, the estate is not an entity against which defendant committed his alcohol-related offenses of vehicular homicide and injurious driving, and it was not the immediate object of those offenses,” the justice wrote. “Indeed, as defendant further points out, the estate did not even exist at the time the crimes were committed; it came into being only as a result of those offenses. Hence, the estate is not entitled to restitution, on its own behalf, as an entity itself directly targeted and victimized by defendant’s crimes.”
The case is People v. Runyan, 12 S.O.S. 3458.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company