People v. Crow

Decision Date30 December 1993
Docket NumberNo. S026536,S026536
Citation864 P.2d 80,6 Cal.4th 952,26 Cal.Rptr.2d 1
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 864 P.2d 80 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Terry Lee CROW, Defendant and Appellant.

Daniel E. Lungren, Atty. Gen., George Williamson, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., John H. Sugiyama and Ronald A. Bass, Asst. Attys. Gen., Laurence K. Sullivan and Ann K. Jensen, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

KENNARD, Justice.

We granted review in this case to address two related questions. First, when a defendant is convicted of welfare fraud (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 10980, subd. (c)), and the trial court denies probation, may the court order the defendant to pay restitution to the defrauded government agency? We conclude that the controlling statute, Government Code section 13967, subdivision (c), empowers the trial court to do so.

The second issue concerns the manner in which the loss in cases of welfare fraud is calculated to determine the applicability of the sentence enhancement provision of Penal Code section 12022.6, subdivision (a). When defendant committed the crime in this case, that provision called for a one-year sentence increase if the loss to the victim exceeded $25,000. We conclude that the government's loss for purposes of the enhancement is the amount actually paid less the amount the defendant would have been eligible to receive absent the fraud. The defendant, however, bears the burden of proving that he or she would have been entitled to welfare benefits if the application for aid had been truthful instead of fraudulent. Here, defendant failed to demonstrate such entitlement; consequently, substantial evidence supports the jury's verdict finding the one-year sentence enhancement allegation to be true.

I

In October 1987, Terri Acosta applied to the Lake County Department of Social Services for food stamps and for benefits under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. In her application, Acosta declared under penalty of perjury that she was living in a rented cabin at 16771 Forest Lake Drive; that defendant was the father of her three minor children; and that defendant was not living with her. The department approved her application, and between November 1987 and December 1990 paid Acosta $29,336 in AFDC benefits and $3,593 in food stamps. Throughout this time, Acosta repeatedly submitted declarations that defendant was not residing with her.

Acosta's declarations were false. Defendant lived with Terri Acosta from October 1987, when Acosta applied for welfare benefits, until his arrest in December 1990. At certain times during that period he was employed; at other times he received unemployment benefits. The income he received while living with Acosta would have reduced the amount of welfare benefits to which Acosta was entitled.

Defendant assisted Acosta in perpetrating welfare fraud on the Lake County Department of Social Services by purchasing a post office box in his own name but with a false address; by asking the landlord of their cabin to issue rent receipts in Acosta's name on occasions when defendant, rather than Acosta, paid the rent; and by executing a declaration, submitted in support of Acosta's 1990 application for food stamps, that he was not living with Acosta.

Defendant was charged with and, in a jury trial, convicted of aiding and abetting Acosta in committing welfare fraud (Welf. &

                Inst.Code, § 10980, subd.  (c)). 1  The same jury also convicted Acosta of welfare fraud, but she is not a party to this appeal.  The trial court sentenced defendant to two years in prison, and imposed an additional year, based on the jury's finding that the loss to the county exceeded $25,000 within the meaning of Penal Code section 12022.6, subdivision (a).  The court also ordered defendant to pay the county $31,807 in restitution
                
II

Defendant argues that the trial court erred in ordering him to pay restitution to the Lake County Department of Social Services, claiming that the controlling statute, GOVERNMENT CODE SECTION 139672, subdivision (c) (hereafter section 13967(c)), does not authorize restitution payments to government agencies.

In 1982, by initiative, the voters of California added a provision to the state Constitution establishing a new constitutional right: the right of every crime victim to obtain restitution from the perpetrator of the crime for losses suffered. (Cal. Const., art. I, § 28, subd. (b).) This provision also directed the Legislature to enact implementing legislation. One of the statutes the Legislature enacted to comply with this constitutional mandate was section 13967(c), which requires that in any criminal case in which the defendant is denied probation and the victim has "suffered economic loss as a result of the defendant's criminal conduct," the trial court shall order the defendant to pay restitution "to the victim." 3 Defendant asserts that a government agency is not a "victim" under section 13967(c). We disagree.

A "victim" is a "person who is the object of a crime...." (Black's Law Dict. (5th ed. 1979) p. 1405, col. 2.) Although a defrauded government agency is not a natural person, it is nevertheless a victim of the fraud. When someone steals from a government agency, that agency, and the taxpayers who fund it, suffer a loss that is no less than the loss suffered by an individual whose property has been stolen.

In People v. Narron (1987) 192 Cal.App.3d 724, 237 Cal.Rptr. 693, one of the issues was whether the government was a "victim" under Penal Code sections 1203.1 and 1203.04, which authorize the trial court to order restitution in cases in which the defendant is placed on probation. The Court of Appeal The Court of Appeal in Narron construed statutes authorizing the trial court to order restitution as a condition of probation; here, we construe a statute authorizing the trial court to order restitution after denying probation. Nevertheless, the policies that led the Narron court to conclude that the government could be considered a victim are equally applicable here. Irrespective of whether the defendant is granted or denied probation, restitution ensures " 'that amends ... be made to society for the breach of the law,' " enables "people who suffer loss as a result of criminal activity [to] be compensated for those losses," and acts "as a 'deterrent to future criminality' ... and 'to rehabilitate the criminal.' " (People v. Narron, supra, 192 Cal.App.3d at p. 732, 237 Cal.Rptr. 693.) These policies are best implemented by treating the government as a victim regardless of whether the defendant is placed on probation. 4 It is highly unlikely that the Legislature intended the term "victim" to include the government in statutes authorizing the trial court to impose restitution as a condition of probation--as explained in People v. Narron, supra, 192 Cal.App.3d 724, 237 Cal.Rptr. 693--but that the Legislature did not wish the term to include the government in section 13967(c), which authorizes the trial court to order restitution while denying the defendant probation.

                concluded that the government could indeed be a victim.  It explained:  "[T]he policies of these provisions [ (Pen.Code, §§ 1203.1, 1203.04) ] favor a definition which includes the government where it suffered loss flowing from a defendant's criminal conduct.  Including the government as a potential 'victim' accords with the court's discretion to employ probation conditions which ensure 'that amends ... be made to society for the breach of the law, ...' (Pen.Code, § 1203.1.)   Moreover, the concept of restitution embodies not only the notion that people who suffer loss as a result of criminal activity should be compensated for those losses (Cal.  Const., art.  I, § 28, subd.  (b)), but also a perception of the value of restitution as a 'deterrent to future criminality' (People v. Lent [1975] 15 Cal.3d [481,] 486 [124 Cal.Rptr. 905, 541 P.2d 545] ), and 'to rehabilitate the criminal.'  (People v. Richards [1976] 17 Cal.3d [614,] 620 [131 Cal.Rptr. [864 P.2d 84] 537, 552 P.2d 97].)  Both aims are furthered by imposing a restitution condition in appropriate cases whether or not the victim is an individual.  We therefore agree with the dictum that '[t]he government may be the beneficiary of [restitution] if it has incurred actual loss due to the crime, as in the instance of tax evasion or theft of government property, ...' (People v. Baker (1974) 39 Cal.App.3d 550, 559 [113 Cal.Rptr. 248];  People v. Burnett (1978) 86 Cal.App.3d 320, 322 [150 Cal.Rptr. 126].)"  (People v. Narron, supra, 192 Cal.App.3d at p. 732, 237 Cal.Rptr. 693.)
                

Well-established principles of statutory construction also suggest that a government agency should be treated as a "victim" within the meaning of section 13967(c). In City of Los Angeles v. City of San Fernando (1975) 14 Cal.3d 199, 276-277, 123 Cal.Rptr. 1, 537 P.2d 1250, this court considered whether a government agency could be considered a "person" within the meaning of a statute stating that "no possession by any person, firm, or corporation" of property owned by a city shall ripen into a prescriptive right against that city. We concluded that a government agency could be considered a "person" within the meaning of the statute. We explained: "[D]efendants cite statements by this court that in the absence of express In this case, the sovereign powers of the government would not be impaired if defrauded government agencies can be deemed victims within the meaning of section 13967(c). It is thus proper for us to conclude that the Legislature intended the term "victim," as used in section 13967(c), to include defrauded government agencies.

words to the contrary, neither the state nor its subdivisions are included within the general words of a statute. [Citations.] But this rule...

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