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Restitution Orders Must Directly Relate to the Criminal Conviction

In State v. Charbonneau, 2016 VT 83 (August 26, 2016), the Vermont Supreme Court vacated an order to pay restitution.

Issue: Defendant plead guilty to felony and misdemeanor possession of stolen property. He was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of all of the victim’s uninsured losses from the underlying burglary, even though he had only been in possession of a fraction of that property. Defendant appealed, arguing that the restitution must related to the damage caused by the criminal conduct for which he had plead guilty – possession of stolen property – and not the damages attributable to the underlying burglary.

Holding: The Court held that to support a restitution award, the State must demonstrate causation between the defendant’s criminal act and the victim’s loss, meaning that the order must directly relate to the damage caused by the criminal act for which the defendant was convicted. The restitution order cannot include amounts resulting from conduct on which the defendant was acquitted or that was not covered in the conviction. The Court held here that the restitution order in this case was based on the value of the property burgled, which was an entirely separate criminal offense than the possession of stolen property. Given that all of the stolen property underlying the defendant’s plea was returned, the Court held that there was no material loss and vacated the order for restitution.

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