A recent Idaho Court of Appeals decision addresses an issue often raised by clients facing a restitution order following conviction or entry of a plea of guilty to a crime. In State v. Blair, a woman who had been convicted of stealing money from her employer objected to the amount of restitution the court determined she owed. She requested a post-sentencing hearing to determine the actual amount, but the court denied her request and entered an order for $5831.43. On appeal she claimed her due process rights had been denied when the court refused to hold another hearing to determine how much money she owed. The Court of Appeals disagreed and the decision of the trial court was affirmed.
This case is instructive because it succinctly identifies the due process right at issue – a fair procedure for determining the amount of money owed – and points to the restitution statute to flesh out the method used by the law to give both sides an opportunity to be heard on the question. Due process really means just that – before you are deprived of your property, the State must afford you an opportunity to be heard in a meaningful way and at a meaningful time. The statute in question permits both sides to present evidence that is relevant to the court’s determination of restitution, and does not require the judge to hold another hearing. The "process" due under the statute, to ensure a fair determination, is a hearing where the state and the defendant have the opportunity to be heard on the question. As that is what happened here, the Court’s determination was upheld.
If you have a restitution question, take a look at the Blair case. Judge Gutierrez’ decision does a nice job of setting out the law and the logical application of the facts to his decision. The case also reminds me of the importance of hammering out the restitution issues with the client before we get to that sentencing hearing. The State typically sends out copies of the claimed restitution items, and we are usually looking to "make it right" if our client has pleaded guilty or been found guilty because the court will undoubtedly take that fact into account when deciding on the sentence. Pay the restitution and usually you get a lesser sentence.