Jail or prison time is usually the first thing that people charged with a crime think about when it comes to how they might be punished. A sentence behind bars brings a number of financial consequences, not the least of which is that inmates can’t work and can have trouble finding a job once they’re released. That’s not the only possible monetary penalty facing a criminal defendant, however. West Virginia law authorizes courts to force a person convicted of a crime to pay the victim for the damage caused. The state Supreme Court recently explained how the restitution system works in a stolen car case.
Mr. Hawkins was convicted of “joyriding”- or the unlawful taking of a vehicle – and conspiracy to commit the crime following a trial in August 2013. He was sentenced to two years of probation and was ordered to pay nearly $10,000 in restitution to the victims of the crime. That figure was about one-third of the value of the car that he allegedly took and later lit on fire. The other two-thirds were to be covered by co-defendants alleged to have participated in the crime with Hawkins.
Hawkins later appealed the decision, arguing that the trial judge should have granted his motion for a directed verdict because there was no evidence that he intended to permanently take the vehicle or that he formally agreed with his co-defendants to commit the theft. He also said the trial court abused its discretion in ordering him to pay restitution. The Supreme Court disagreed.
The Court observed that Hawkins admitted during trial that he participated in the theft of the vehicle and was present when it was lit on fire. Although the jury eventually agreed with Hawkins that there wasn’t enough evidence to support a higher charge of grand larceny, it found there was sufficient proof to convict him on the joyriding charge.
The Court also found that the restitution award was appropriate. “West Virginia Code § 61-11A-4 requires restitution in any case involving physical, psychological, or economic harm,” the Court explained. “The restitution statute enables trial courts to require convicted criminals to pay all losses sustained by victims in the commission of the crime giving rise to the conviction,” it added, citing its 1997 decision in State v. Whetzel. A trial court has substantial discretion in setting the amount of the restitution, a decision that the Supreme Court noted should be “guided by a presumption in favor of an award of full restitution to victims.”
In this case, the Court found that the destruction of the vehicle was a foreseeable consequence of Hawkins’ crime. As a result, it affirmed the lower court’s decision.
As this case shows, a criminal conviction can come with a number of serious consequences. It’s important that a person facing any criminal charges seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney. The West Virginia criminal defense lawyers at the Wolfe Law Firm have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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