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Restitution — Law Enforcement as “Victim” — Damage to Squad during Pursuit

State v. Earl W. Haase, 2006 WI App 86, (State’s) PFR filed 5/17/06
For Haase: Glenn L. Cushing, SPD, Madison Appellate

Issue: Whether restitution may be ordered for damage caused to a squad car destroyed by fire during pursuit of the defendant.

Holding:  A governmental “agency must be a direct victim of the criminal conduct to be reimbursed for a loss, but even when it is a direct victim, it may not recover collateral losses of normal law enforcement activities,” ¶13. The police agency in this instance was not a direct victim, so the restitution order falls for that reason, without reaching the issue of collateral loss:

¶14      Turning to the present case, we conclude that the department was not a direct victim of Haase’s criminal conduct. His criminal conduct in this case—eluding an officer—did not directly cause the loss of the department’s squad car. In Ortiz, we explained that the police officers involved in the standoff were the direct victims of Ortiz’s criminal conduct, while the city was only an indirect victim and hence was not entitled to restitution. We explained that the officers were the direct victims of each of Ortiz’s crimes:

Ortiz did not threaten to injure the city—he threatened to injure the police officers. Ortiz did not fail to comply with an attempt by the city to take him into custody—he failed to comply with the police effort to take him into custody. Ortiz did not obstruct the city—he obstructed the police. And finally, Ortiz’s disorderly conduct was not targeted at the city—it was targeted at the police.

Ortiz, ¶22. Similarly, in this case, the deputies that Haase led on a dangerous, high-speed chase were the direct victims of Haase’s criminal conduct. Haase’s criminal conduct did not cause harm to the property of the department; he did not vandalize public property, he eluded an officer. Thus, the officers, not the department and its budget, were the direct victims of his conduct.

The court provides a summary of caselaw with respect to when a government agency may be considered a “victim” for purposes of restitution under § 973.20, ¶¶7-10. The synthesis is contained in the two-part test noted above, see also ¶10. In the process, the court rejects the State’s effort to impose in this context the general test for causation: “the ‘substantial factor’ standard would significantly enlarge the scope of conduct for which an agency would be entitled to restitution and thereby contravene our prior cases,” ¶12. (Indeed so, as to significant enlargement of liability) The court also distinguishes Haase’s circumstance from one in which the actor rams a squad car—in that latter instance, the agency would be a direct victim, ¶16.

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