Law School Case Brief
People v. Birkett - 21 Cal. 4th 226, 87 Cal. Rptr. 2d 205, 980 P.2d 912 (1999)
Pursuant to Cal. Penal Code § 1203.04(a)(2)(A), (e) (1994), except as against the Restitution Fund, the immediate victim of a crime is entitled to receive from the probationer the full amount of the loss caused by the crime, regardless of whether, in the exercise of prudence, the victim had purchased private insurance that covered some or all of the same losses. Third parties other than the Restitution Fund, such as private insurers, who have already reimbursed the victim are thus left to their separate civil remedies, if any, to recover any such prior indemnification either from the victim or from the probationer.
Pursuant to a plea bargain, defendant Terry Birkett pleaded guilty in California state court to one count of owning and operating a chop shop and one count of auto theft. The trial court placed him on probation with the condition that he serve one year in county jail and ordered him to pay restitution to several victims of his crimes; Birkett was also ordered to pay restitution to two insurance companies that had indemnified two of the victims. On Birkett's appeal, the court of appeal affirmed, holding that the trial court properly ordered Birkett to pay restitution to the insurance companies that had indemnified his victims.
Was it proper to order Birkett to pay restitution to the insurance companies?
The state supreme court reversed the judgment of the appellate court and directed that court to remand the matter to the trial court. The court held that the appellate court erred by upholding the trial court's order that split a mandatory probationary restitution award for the full amount of two of the victims' losses between the victims themselves and the insurers who had partially reimbursed them. The court held that the 1994 statutory scheme governing mandatory restitution as a condition of adult probation gave only direct crime victims a right to restitution from adult probationers, and insurers did not become such direct victims by reimbursing insureds for crime losses under the terms of their policies. Moreover, the court held, while trial courts retained considerable discretion to order nonstatutory restitution as a condition of probation, they could not divert mandatory restitution awards from insureds to insurers, since the 1994 scheme gave direct victims a right to restitution based on the full amount of their losses, without regard to full or partial recoupments from other sources except the state restitution fund. The court also held that the statutory scheme, as so limited, did not violate Cal. Const., art. I, § 28, subd. (b).
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