People v. Martinez

Decision Date03 March 2022
Docket NumberCourt of Appeals No. 19CA1308
Citation511 P.3d 739,2022 COA 28
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Arnold Roman MARTINEZ, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtColorado Court of Appeals

Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General, John T. Lee, First Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

Megan A. Ring, Colorado State Public Defender, Jacob B. McMahon, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant

Opinion by JUDGE LIPINSKY

¶ 1 The Colorado restitution statutes require an offender to "mak[e] the victim whole to the extent practicable." People v. Courtney , 868 P.2d 1126, 1128 (Colo. App. 1993). Offenders must "make full restitution to those harmed by their misconduct." § 18-1.3-601(1)(b), C.R.S. 2021. A crime victim is entitled to restitution for "losses or injuries proximately caused by [the] offender's conduct and that can be reasonably calculated and recompensed in money." § 18-1.3-602(3)(a), C.R.S. 2021. Because the statutory definition of "victim" includes other persons besides the direct victim of the crime, it is not always clear who, besides the direct victim, is a "victim" for purposes of the restitution statutes. And no cases have analyzed how the 2000 amendments to the restitution statutes impacted the statutory definition of "victim."

¶ 2 Today we decide that the 2000 amendments to the restitution statutes did not alter the prior case law allowing insurance companies that indemnify their policyholders for losses proximately caused by felonies, misdemeanors, or other offenses specified in the restitution statutes to obtain restitution from offenders.

¶ 3 Arnold Roman Martinez appeals the district court's order granting the prosecution's motion for restitution. We affirm.

I. Background Facts

¶ 4 The district court entered the restitution order to compensate the victim and his insurer for damage to the victim's car resulting from his collision with Martinez while Martinez was attempting to abscond with the victim's $6,000 bicycle. Officer Ryan Scheevel documented the facts of the attempted bicycle theft in his report.

¶ 5 The victim and his wife left their garage door open after returning home. When the victim's wife heard a noise in the garage, she looked into the garage. She screamed to her husband that a man was in the garage, stealing the bicycle.

¶ 6 The victim ran outside and saw a man, later identified as Martinez, riding off on the bicycle. The victim got into his car and chased Martinez. Another individual saw the victim pursuing Martinez and called 911.

¶ 7 The victim caught up with Martinez and pulled in front of him "in an attempt to get [him] to stop." Rather than stopping, however, Martinez "ran directly into the front passenger side fender" of the victim's car. Martinez got off the bicycle and walked up the street. He then got into another car and drove away. The victim recovered the bicycle, which was undamaged. But the collision resulted in damage to the victim's car.

¶ 8 The prosecution charged Martinez with second degree burglary, criminal mischief, and violation of bail bond conditions. Martinez entered into a global plea agreement in which he pleaded guilty to offenses in another case and the prosecutor dropped the charges arising from the theft of the victim's bicycle. Under the plea agreement, Martinez agreed to pay restitution for damages caused by the theft.

¶ 9 The prosecutor filed a motion for restitution in the amount of $2,393.84, which represented the cost of repairing the victim's car. Martinez objected, arguing that his actions were not the proximate cause of the damage to the car.

¶ 10 The district court conducted a hearing on the restitution motion. At the hearing, Officer Scheevel testified that the victim told police officers he "pulled parallel with [Martinez] on the bicycle, and, then, pulled in front of [Martinez] ... in [an] attempt to get [Martinez] to stop on the bicycle." He said he understood that the victim had turned his car in front of Martinez "to recover [the] bike."

¶ 11 At the conclusion of the hearing, the court ordered Martinez to pay the requested amount of restitution — $500.00 to the victim for his insurance deductible and the remaining $1,893.84 to the victim's insurer, GEICO, which had covered the victim's loss.

II. Discussion

¶ 12 Martinez contends that the district court erred by (1) determining that he was the proximate cause of the damage to the victim's car; and (2) awarding restitution to GEICO. We disagree with both contentions.

A. Martinez's Theft Was the Proximate Cause of the Damage to the Victim's Car
1. Standard of Review

¶ 13 Although the parties agree that the prosecution bears the burden of proving the amount of restitution and causation by a preponderance of the evidence, see People v. Henry , 2018 COA 48M, ¶ 15, 439 P.3d 33, 36, they disagree on the standard of appellate review.

¶ 14 The trial court's interpretation of the statutory reference to "losses ... proximately caused by [the] offender's conduct," § 18-1.3-602(3)(a), is an application of the law that triggers abuse of discretion review. See People v. Reyes , 166 P.3d 301, 302 (Colo. App. 2007) ("A trial court has broad discretion in determining the terms and conditions of a restitution order, and its ruling will not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion."). "[A] trial court abuses its discretion when it misconstrues or misapplies the law." Id. Thus, we apply the abuse of discretion standard in reviewing the district court's determination that Martinez's actions proximately caused the victim's losses. See People v. Henson , 2013 COA 36, ¶¶ 9-20, 307 P.3d 1135, 1138-39 (holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by awarding restitution in the form of the wages the victim lost while investigating the theft of her purse).

2. The Meaning of "Proximate Cause" in the Restitution Statutes

¶ 15 "Restitution must be considered as a part of every criminal conviction." People v. Sosa , 2019 COA 182, ¶ 14, 487 P.3d 1203, 1206. In light of the statutory reference to "proximate[ ] cause," § 18-1.3-602(3)(a), "[a] defendant may not be ordered to pay restitution for losses that did not stem from the conduct that was the basis of the defendant's conviction." People v. Rivera , 250 P.3d 1272, 1274 (Colo. App. 2010). "Proximate cause in the context of restitution is defined as a cause which in natural and probable sequence produced the claimed injury and without which the claimed injury would not have been sustained." Id.

¶ 16 In contrast, "unlawful conduct that is broken by an independent intervening cause cannot be the proximate cause of an injury." People v. Clay , 74 P.3d 473, 475 (Colo. App. 2003). "An independent intervening cause ‘is an act by an independent person or entity that destroys the causal connection between the defendant's act and the victim's injury and, thereby becomes the cause of the victim's injury.’ " Id. (quoting People v. Saavedra-Rodriguez , 971 P.2d 223, 225-26 (Colo. 1998) ). "To qualify as an independent intervening cause, an event must be unforeseeable and one in which the accused does not participate." Id.

¶ 17 A victim's negligence may serve as an independent intervening cause if it rises to the level of gross negligence. "Simple negligence is foreseeable and does not constitute an independent intervening cause; gross negligence is not foreseeable and thus may serve as an independent intervening cause." People v. Sieck , 2014 COA 23, ¶ 9, 351 P.3d 502, 504. Grossly negligent, and therefore unforeseeable, conduct is "abnormal human behavior that constitutes ‘an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of care.’ " People v. Smoots , 2013 COA 152, ¶ 10, 396 P.3d 53, 55 (quoting People v. Lopez , 97 P.3d 277, 282 (Colo. App. 2004) ), aff'd sub nom. Reyna-Abarca v. People , 2017 CO 15, 390 P.3d 816.

3. The District Court's Ruling

¶ 18 The district court's restitution order included the following findings, which tracked Officer Scheevel's testimony:

• After the victim's wife alerted the victim that Martinez was stealing the bicycle, the victim pursued Martinez in his vehicle.
• The victim "drove in his vehicle parallel to" Martinez.
• When Martinez "did not stop the bicycle, [the victim] pulled his car in front of [Martinez] in an attempt to stop" Martinez.
• When the victim pulled over, Martinez, "on the bicycle, hit [the victim]’s vehicle on the passenger side fender above the front tire."

¶ 19 The court concluded that the victim's act of "pulling his vehicle in front of [Martinez] while [Martinez] was riding [the victim]’s bicycle" was not an independent intervening cause of the damage to the car. The court said it was foreseeable that "the victim would attempt to prevent [Martinez] from taking his property by pulling in front of [Martinez] when [Martinez] failed to stop or pull over." It noted that Martinez "was clearly participating in the event as he was riding [the victim]’s bicycle parallel to [the victim]’s car while he was in the act of stealing the bicycle."

¶ 20 The court further said that the victim's act of pulling in front of Martinez constituted, at most, "simple negligence." According to the court, the victim's actions "would not constitute gross negligence as he was pulling his vehicle in front of [Martinez] anticipating that [Martinez] would stop and thus cease the theft of the bicycle." The court concluded that Martinez's theft of the bicycle was the proximate cause of the damage to the victim's car.

4. The District Court Did Not Abuse Its Discretion by Determining that Martinez's Theft Was the Proximate Cause of the Damage to the Victim's Car

¶ 21 Martinez contends that the victim's conduct constituted an independent intervening cause and, thus, the district court erred by concluding that Martinez's theft was the proximate cause of the damage to the victim's car. We are not persuaded.

¶ 22 Martinez argues that, because the...

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