People v. Hamilton

Decision Date30 December 2003
Docket NumberNo. B167189.,B167189.
Citation114 Cal.App.4th 932,8 Cal.Rptr.3d 190
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Eric Duane HAMILTON, Defendant and Respondent.

MOSK, J.

INTRODUCTION

This appeal concerns a victim restitution obligation under former Penal Code section 1202.4.1 The principal issues presented are whether either of the following may be offset against a criminal defendant's victim restitution obligation: (1) payments to the victim by the victim's insurance carrier; or (2) payments to the victim by the insurer of defendant's mother to settle the victim's civil action against the mother and defendant. We hold that neither payment may offset the defendant's restitution obligation.

BACKGROUND

Respondent Eric Duane Hamilton (Hamilton) shot and seriously injured Donald Hill (Hill) while Hill performed work for Hamilton and Hamilton's mother, Lena Hamilton (Ms. Hamilton). Pursuant to a plea agreement, Hamilton pleaded no contest to assault with a firearm in violation of section 245, subdivision (a)(2). On November 4, 1996, the trial court sentenced Hamilton to eight years in prison, but suspended the sentence and placed him on probation for five years. The trial court imposed as a condition of Hamilton's probation the payment of $15,000 in victim restitution. The trial court revoked and reinstated Hamilton's probation on numerous occasions.

Sometime in early 1998, Hill sued Hamilton and Ms. Hamilton in a civil action for Hill's injuries. Ms. Hamilton's insurer paid Hill between $25,000 and $30,0002 to settle the claim on her behalf and obtained Hill's release of claims and dismissal with prejudice of the lawsuit against Ms. Hamilton and Hamilton. Hill died sometime after the settlement. Hamilton has made no restitution payments to Hill or to Hill's successor, his mother, Tina Wright (Ms. Wright).

In March 2003, the People sought to revoke Hamilton's probation for failure to pay his victim restitution obligation. At the April 10, 2003 probation revocation hearing, Ms. Wright testified concerning the cost of Hill's medical care and the settlement with Ms. Hamilton's insurer. Ms Wright said that although her health insurance3 and the settlement with Ms. Hamilton's insurer covered some of Hill's medical expenses, Ms. Wright incurred expenses that were not reimbursed. Ms. Wright also testified that she could not reconstruct her expenses with certainty because she had lost much of the necessary documentation.

The trial court's inquiry at the April 10, 2003 hearing focused on Ms. Wright's "out of pocket" expenses that had not been reimbursed either by her insurance or by the civil action settlement proceeds:

"THE COURT:.... My query to you, though, is in actual out of pocket expenses, what were the actual costs for bills and everything?

"MRS. WRIGHT: I had my bills, I lost them on the elevator, and —

"THE COURT: Just tell me.

"MRS. WRIGHT: Well, the insurance from the hospital and then from the cardiologies (sic) and from the psychiatrists, and other expense, and the lawyer expense, ran way over what the insurance paid.

"THE COURT: I know, but your — are you talking about the deductibles? Because you know if you have health insurance or hospitalization, the insurance will pay and then there is usually a percentage that is not covered.

"MRS. WRIGHT: The insurance paid some of it and then I had to pay a lot of it myself.

"THE COURT: So I just want to know what was the total loss, money that you had to put out of your pocket?"

The trial court then asked Ms. Wright to provide an accounting of her "out of pocket" expenses but noted that it appeared Hamilton's restitution obligation had been satisfied:

"THE COURT: This is what I would like you to do. If you can reconstruct your bills and give us a total of everything that you had to pay out of your pocket and then subtract that from the $30,000 that you received, minus attorney fees, minus your deductibles on the insurance, and then please forward that to this counsel and to the prosecutor. And if it looks like it's grossly out of whack here, the court — this gentleman is still on probation, and we'll bring everybody back in and have a further conversation. [¶] But right now, it appears to the court that there's been a restitution...."

The trial court concluded by advising Ms. Wright that if she did not provide an accounting of her "out of pocket" expenses, the court would consider Hamilton's restitution obligation satisfied:

"THE COURT: All right, thank you very much for coming in, and if you can reconstruct your bills, if they do go over 15,000 out of pocket expenses, ma'am, please give a copy of your breakdown and forward it to counsel Hedding and to the People.

"MRS. WRIGHT: All right.

"THE COURT: All right, and if we don't — if counsel Hedding and the People don't hear from you, within the next two weeks, then we will assume that, you know, it's over and done with, all right? Okay, thank you ma'am."

After the foregoing exchange, the trial court reinstated Hamilton's probation, under the same terms and conditions existing before the April 10, 2003 hearing date. The trial court's minute order issued after the hearing states "probation reinstated on original terms and conditions." There is no indication in the record that Ms. Wright provided any further information to the court. The People appeal from the trial court's oral ruling concerning Hamilton's restitution obligation.

DISCUSSION

The People contend the trial court erred in offsetting any payments made by Ms. Wright's and Ms. Hamilton's insurers against Hamilton's restitution obligation. The People argue in the alternative that the amount of any permissible offset should have been limited to payments made by Ms. Hamilton's insurer to compensate Hill for losses expressly covered by former section 1202.4. Because these issues involve questions of statutory interpretation, we review them de novo. (People v. Saephanh (2000) 80 Cal.App.4th 451, 457, 94 Cal.Rptr.2d 910.)

A. Appealability Of The Trial Court's Order

The People contend that the trial court's oral ruling at the April 10, 2003 hearing offsetting Hamilton's victim restitution obligation against payments made by Ms. Hamilton's insurer and by Ms. Wright's insurer is appealable under subdivisions (a)(5) and (a)(10) of section 1238. Hamilton maintains that the trial court's oral ruling is not an appealable" order" within the meaning of section 1238.

Section 1238 delineates the People's right to appeal in criminal cases. (People v. Douglas (1999) 20 Cal.4th 85, 82 Cal.Rptr.2d 816, 972 P.2d 151.) Section 1238, subdivision (a)(5) accords the People the right to appeal from "an order made after judgment, affecting the substantial rights of the people." Section 1238, subdivision (a)(10) authorizes an appeal from "[t]he imposition of an unlawful sentence" and defines an "unlawful sentence" as "the imposition of a sentence not authorized by law or the imposition of a sentence based upon an unlawful order of the court which strikes or otherwise modifies the effect of an enhancement or prior conviction." (§ 1238, subd. (a)(10).)

The trial court's oral ruling at the April 10, 2003 hearing concerning Hamilton's victim restitution obligation is appealable under section 1238, subdivision (a)(5). The April 10, 2003 ruling was made after the imposition of sentence on November 4, 1996. Because the ruling effectively reduced Hamilton's restitution obligation, it affects a substantial right of the People. (People v. Douglas, supra, 20 Cal.4th at pp. 90-92, 82 Cal.Rptr.2d 816, 972 P.2d 151 [order reducing felony count to misdemeanor after court suspended imposition of judgment and granted defendant probation appealable under § 1238, subd. (a)(5)]; People v. Minjarez (1980) 102 Cal.App.3d 309, 312, 162 Cal.Rptr. 292 [order granting defendant credit for 760 days spent in custody following court's imposition of judgment and sentence appealable under § 1238, subd. (a)(5)].) The People have a substantial interest in ensuring the enforcement of victim restitution obligations, mandated both by the California Constitution and by statute. An oral ruling in a criminal case, such as the one made here, may be appealed. (Minjarez, at p. 312, 162 Cal.Rptr. 292 [trial court's oral ruling reducing defendant's sentence by crediting time in custody appealable].)

Hamilton contends that the trial court's statements regarding victim restitution were equivocal and did not constitute a final order. Although the trial court did leave open the possibility for Ms. Wright to present a future accounting of her "out of pocket" expenses and offered to "bring everyone back in and have a further conversation" at that time, the court made clear that the focus of any future proceedings regarding restitution would be Ms. Wright's "out of pocket" expenses, i.e., those unreimbursed by her insurance or by the settlement with Ms. Hamilton. We conclude the trial court's oral ruling was sufficiently explicit to serve as the basis for an appeal. Because we hold that the trial court's ruling is appealable under section 1238, subdivision (a)(5), we need not address its appealability under section 1238, subdivision (a)(10).

B. Victim Restitution

The California Constitution and the Penal Code mandate Hamilton's victim restitution obligations. Article I, section 28, subdivision (b) of the California Constitution directs the legislature to adopt laws implementing the "right" of "all persons who suffer losses as a result of criminal activity" to receive "restitution from the persons convicted of the crimes," and ensuring that "restitution shall be ordered" from convicted...

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