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BlogsPublications | April 3, 2017
2 minute read

COA: Restitution can be based on course of conduct, not just charges of conviction.

According to the Michigan Court of Appeals, a defendant may be ordered to pay full restitution, even when the prosecution drops some charges contributing to the amount owed. In People v. Bryant, No. 328512, on order of the Michigan Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals examined “the propriety of the Wayne Circuit Court’s restitution award in light of People v. McKinley, 496 Mich 410.” The court in McKinley held that a restitution award “ties ‘the defendant’s course of conduct’ to the convicted offenses and requires a causal link between them.”

In Bryant, the defendant broke into the victim’s home and stole a rifle, money, and a jewelry box. The prosecution brought charges for second-degree felony-firearm and second-degree home invasion as a fourth-offense habitual offender. In exchange for pleading guilty to the felony-firearm charge, the prosecution agreed to dismiss the second-degree home invasion count and fourth-offense habitual offense notice. At sentencing, the victim claimed $1,000 in restitution for her insurance deductible. The defendant claimed that, because the felony-firearm offense was the only remaining charge, he could not be liable for the full $1,000 deductible. In other words, because he was only convicted of stealing a single gun, he could not be held liable for the total damage incurred.

Both the trial court and Court of Appeals disagreed. In reviewing the standards for restitution set forth in McKinley and People v. Corbin, 312 Mich App 352, 361, the court noted that ‘“one must ask, but for the defendant’s conduct, would the result have occurred,’ and ‘[f]or a defendant’s conduct to be regarded as a proximate cause, the victim’s injury must be a direct and natural result of the defendant’s actions.’” Then, if the prosecution successfully shows that the defendant proximately caused the harm, the prosecution must prove damages by a preponderance of the evidence.

The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court, which said, although the defendant was only convicted of stealing a single gun, “‘the home invasion charge . . . was part and parcel of the felony-firearm conviction,’ and ‘the course of conduct for the home invasion included stealing the victim’s belongings.” In other words, because the defendant was properly convicted of a crime that formed a general course of conduct, he could be held liable for the damage resulting from that conduct. As the Court of Appeals said, “The law simply does not require that when a conviction results from a plea, a defendant must specifically reference each stolen item in order for the prosecution to obtain a restitution order for stolen goods.” The court therefore upheld the trial court’s sentence and order for restitution.