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Defendant required to pay restitution for damage he didn’t directly cause

State v. Terry C. Craig, Jr., 2016AP177-CR, District 4, 8/11/16 (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

Craig struck and shattered the left tail light on an old car but he did not put a baseball-sized hole or a 2 inch crack on the left of it. That was preexisting damage. The circuit court ordered him to pay restitution for it any way, and the court of appeals affirmed.

The cost to repair the tail light and assembly was $160. The value of the vehicle was $1,200. And the State requested $1,453.82 to repair the tail light, the hole, and all of the cracks in the body of the car.

Rejecting Craig’s argument that he could only be required to pay for the $160 damage he directly caused, the court of appeals held:

¶10 . . . [A] circuit court has authority to order restitution based on evidence that the pertinent criminal conduct was a substantial factor in causing the damage and not necessarily a direct cause of the damage. See State v. Canady, 2000 WI App 87, 234 Wis. 2d 261, 610 N.W.2d 147 (upholding circuit court’s restitution order even though defendant did not directly cause the damage to a glass apartment door, because the damage was caused by a police officer who was attempting to detain and arrest the defendant). The court in Canady reasoned that “[w]hile damaging the glass door pane may not have been intended or expected on Canady’s part, the natural consequences of grabbing for a metal pry bar while resisting arrest was that he would be disarmed” resulting in damage to the door. Id. at ¶12. Put differently, the damage at issue must have resulted from “the natural consequences of” the defendant’s actions, but the defendant’s actions need not have directly caused the harm. Id.

The court of appeals also approved the circuit court’s choice of $1,200 (the value of the car) as the amount. Under §973.20(2)(b)1,”the circuit court has the authority to order restitution for the “value of the property on the date of its damage.” ¶12. Furthermore, circuit courts have a lot of flexibility when ordering restitution.

¶13 . . . It apparently would have been difficult for the court to parse out from the repair estimate precisely how much it would cost to fix only the preexisting damage, separate from all damage that was a natural consequence of Craig’s actions, due to the fact that the criminal conduct aggravated preexisting damage. That is, Craig used the wooden object to damage a visibly damaged car more than it had been damaged before, but it was hard to say precisely how much more it was damaged. Faced with these facts, the court made a rational choice from among the options provided in §973.20(2) by settling on the value of the vehicle, an amount less than total repair costs.

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