Tuesday, October 15, 2019
Opinion Upholds Order Requiring That Defendant, Convicted of Receiving Stolen Property, Both Relinquish Property and Pay Replacement Cost
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A man convicted of receiving four stolen laptops must both relinquish those items to the owner, the Ventura Unified School District, and pay what it cost the district to replace the laptops, under a decision of the Court of Appeal for this district.
Acting Presiding Justice Kenneth Yegan of Div. Six explained, in an opinion filed Thursday and not certified for publication, that the replacement cost must be paid, as victim restitution, because the district “had to buy laptop replacements to continue teaching.”
However, the opinion does not explain why, if defendant Anthony Mark Miller reimburses the district for what it shelled out to procure new laptops, the defendant does not get to keep the old laptops—stolen by others—which police found in his van two weeks after the theft.
Miller contended that someone brought the laptops to him asking that they be repaired, but admitted: “I should have known they were stolen.”
The case entails an application of Penal Code §1202.4(f)(3) which requires restitution “[i]n every case in which a victim has suffered economic loss as a result of the defendant’s conduct.”
Cites 2011 Decision
Yegan declared that “restitution may be ordered for loss of use of property later returned to victim.” In support of that proposition, he cited a May 26, 2011 decision of the Sixth District Court of Appeal in People v. Holmberg.
In that case, the defendant, a receiver of stolen property, argued that it was the burglary that caused the victim’s monetary damage, not his act in subsequently possessing the items, so that no restitution order should be imposed on him.
The Court of Appeal noted that harm to the victim, under the trial court’s findings, included a $10,000 loss based on the theft of its computers having caused a one-week shut-down of its business operations. Some of the losses would not have been incurred, the opinion says, had it not been for the defendant’s concealment of the property, obtained by him on the day of the burglary.
It explained that “by holding on to the equipment, knowing it was stolen, defendant’s conduct was a concurrent cause of the victims’ losses and a substantial factor in causing their damages.”
The Sixth District did not deal with the question of whether the victim was entitled to a double recovery.
Fourth District Case
A case discussed at length in Holmberg was People v. Scroggins, decided in 1987 by the Fourth District’s Div. One. Scroggins was differentiated based on a lack of evidence there of a loss suffered by the victims as a result of the defendant’s detention of stolen items.
Yegan did not discuss that case in the context of whether any monetary restitution, at all, was warranted.
In Scroggins, a receiver of stolen goods was ordered to pay the value of property purloined in burglaries and not recovered. The appeals court reversed, saying:
“Here, Scroggins was never charged with or found to be criminally responsible for the burglaries. He was charged and convicted of receiving stolen property, and those items of property were recovered by the police and presumably returned to the rightful owners. Nevertheless, the trial court ordered Scroggins to pay restitution to burglary victims, whose losses were not connected to Scroggins’s crime. The court did not conclude—nor from this record could it have—that Scroggins was responsible for these other losses that it ordered paid.
“In short, the instant restitution order has no relationship to the crime for which Scroggins was convicted, and we can find no relationship between it and the potential for a ‘salutary’ rehabilitative effect it could have on the defendant.”
A remand was ordered so that the trial court could determine what, if any, damages were suffered by the victims as the result of the defendant’s own conduct.
Why Holmberg, entailing actual harm to the victim caused by the defendant, applies rather than Scroggins, involving no such harm, is not set forth by Yegan.
Trial Court’s Speculation
Yegan did cite Scroggins, but in connection with the aspect of the victim-restitution order by Ventura Superior Court Judge Ferdinand Inumerable that Miller was to pay $1,555.19—representing the cost of replacing six laptops—although only four of the 10 devices stolen from a school, worth somewhat in excess of $950, were found in his possession. There is no indication in the opinion as to why the school district referred to six laptops, rather than to all 10 or to the four Miller possessed, in its victim statement.
In making the order, Inumerable observed that it was “pretty obvious” that Miller “was in possession of stolen computers, four of them which he’s in possession of” and it was “rational and reasonable to believe the other two either were sold or provided to someone else” by him.
“Someone’s going to bear the burden, the cost of the offense here, which is possession of stolen property,” the judge said, declaring that it “falls on” Miller.
Yegan, citing Scroggins, wrote that Miller “may not be ordered to pay restitution for laptops that he was not charged with taking or found to be criminally responsible for.”
A remand was ordered for a recalculation of what Miller, who was sentenced to two years in jail, is to pay.
The case is People v. Miller, B297240.
Published cases cautioning against victim restitution orders resulting in double recoveries include People v. Cornejo, handed down by the Third District Court of Appeal in 2016. Three defendants were convicted of murder and other crimes, and victim restitution was ordered in each case.
Justice Andrea L. Hoch wrote that “respective abstracts of judgment must be modified to reflect the victim restitution order is a joint and several obligation” to avoid the prospect of a double recovery. She noted that the Office of Attorney General had conceded the point.
Hoch cited a 2004 decision by the Fourth District’s Div. One, in People v. Leon, also involving more than one defendant, in which it was held that “a court may impose liability on each defendant to pay the full amount of the economic loss, as long as the victim does not obtain a double recovery.”
Div. Three of the Court of Appeal for this district held in 2009 in Vigilant Insurance Co. v. Chiu that while a victim may both seek an order for restitution in a criminal proceeding and in a lawsuit, any victim-restitution order will be reduced by any amount garnered in a civil action to “avoid unlawful duplicative recovery.”
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