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Arizona Court Issues Important Decision Regarding Restitution to Crime Victims in Recent Murder Case

Restitution is when a court orders a defendant to pay a crime victim for their financial losses related to the crime. Unlike civil law, restitution is typically limited to the costs that the victim actually incurred. In a recent Arizona murder case, the state’s high court discussed the constitutional limits on the court’s ability to place a cap on the amount of restitution in a criminal case absent the victim’s consent. However, unlike the vast majority of criminal cases, this case discussed the crime victim’s constitutional rights, rather than the defendant. Of course, the court’s decision impacts criminal defendants in that it increases the amount of potential restitution they could be forced to pay.

The Facts of the Case

A detailed recitation of the fact is not necessary to fully understand the import of the court’s opinion. However, in summary, three defendants were charged with abusing and killing a younger family member. All three defendants plead guilty to a lesser offense. As a part of the plea agreement, the defendant would pay the victim’s family restitution. However, under the terms of the plea agreement, the maximum amount of restitution is limited to $500,000. The victim’s family objected to the cap on restitution, but the court upheld the cap and proceeded with the pleas. The victim’s family appealed the lower court’s decision.

On appeal, the court first addressed the state’s argument that the court should wait to see if the cap on restitution actually limited the recovery amount. However, the court rejected this argument, noting that there is no requirement for caps on restitution.

The court began its analysis by noting that held that, when a criminal defendant enters a guilty plea, they must do so “knowingly and voluntarily.” Part of this analysis requires the defendant to know what their potential exposure may be. Under this logic, Arizona courts regularly accepted caps on restitution, based on the defendant’s Due Process rights.

However, in this case, the Arizona Supreme Court departed from this logic, explaining that there is no Due Process right to a cap on restitution. The court explained that a defendant’s Due Process rights when it comes to restitution are met so long as the defendant is on notice that they will be required to pay restitution; no specific amount is necessary. The court also explained that a cap on restitution is “ultimately illusory,” because the state does not have the right to waive a crime victim’s right to restitution.

As a result of the court’s opinion, any future cases cannot have caps on the amount of restitution absent the victim’s consent.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona Crime?

If you have recently been arrested for any type of crime, contact Attorney James E. Novak for immediate assistance. Attorney Novak is a veteran criminal defense attorney who proudly represents clients facing a wide range of crimes, including Arizona weapons offenses, drug crimes, and domestic violence allegations. To learn more about how Attorney Novak can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 480-413-1499 today.

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