Schuette v. State

Decision Date20 June 2002
Docket NumberNo. SC01-1254.,SC01-1254.
Citation822 So.2d 1275
PartiesLaurie Adele SCHUETTE, Petitioner, v. STATE of Florida, Respondent.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Benjamin W. Maserang, Assistant Public Defender, Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, West Palm Beach, FL, for Petitioner.

Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General, Celia Terenzio Bureau Chief, West Palm Beach, and Don M. Rogers, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, FL, for Respondent.

PARIENTE, J.

We have for review State v. Schuette, 782 So.2d 935 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001), a decision from the Fourth District Court of Appeal that certified conflict with the decision from the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Cheek v. State, 700 So.2d 731 (Fla. 5th DCA 1997), on the issue of whether restitution must be ordered for damages arising out of an automobile accident that occurs while the defendant is driving with a suspended license. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const. For the reasons that follow, we quash the Fourth District's decision in Schuette, which reversed the trial court's order denying restitution, and approve the Fifth District's decision in Cheek.

BACKGROUND

After an automobile accident that resulted in injuries to the victim, petitioner Laurie Schuette was charged with and convicted of driving with a suspended license and leaving the scene of an accident involving an injury. See Schuette, 782 So.2d at 936. During the sentencing hearing, the State requested the trial court to order restitution for the victim's injuries. See id. The record indicates only that Schuette's license suspension resulted from her failure to provide proof of insurance and failure to appear for two traffic court hearings.1 The trial court noted that to order restitution, a nexus must exist between the crime and the injuries. See Schuette, 782 So.2d at 936. Finding that "the fact that Schuette did not have a valid driver's license did not create the victim's injuries," the trial court concluded that there was no nexus between the criminal act and the injury suffered and, therefore, the court denied restitution. Id. The State appealed, arguing that the offense of driving with a suspended license could and should support an order of restitution. See id.

The Fourth District initially stated that "[i]t is undisputed that restitution could not be ordered in [sic] from the conviction for leaving the scene of an accident," citing to this Court's decision in State v. Williams, 520 So.2d 276 (Fla.1988). Id. at 936 n. 1. As to the issue of whether restitution could be imposed for the offense of driving with a suspended license, the Fourth District acknowledged that before 1993, the Second District Court of Appeal held "that restitution could not be imposed against a suspended driver who caused an accident because the fact that the driver's license was suspended was not causally related to the crash." Schuette, 782 So.2d at 936-37 (citing Ochoa v. State, 596 So.2d 515 (Fla. 2d DCA 1992); Stewart v. State, 571 So.2d 485 (Fla. 2d DCA 1990)). However, the Fourth District observed that the Legislature had amended the restitution statute in 1993 "in order to expand the criteria for ordering restitution." Id. at 937.

The Fourth District also cited to our decision in Glaubius v. State, 688 So.2d 913, 915 (Fla.1997), which required that "before restitution may be imposed, the court must find that the loss or damage is causally connected to the offense and bears a significant relationship to the offense." Schuette, 782 So.2d at 936 (citing Glaubius, 688 So.2d at 915). In reversing the trial court's order denying restitution, the Fourth District concluded that restitution was required in this case because "Schuette's driving without a legal right began the criminal episode during which the accident occurred, and but for her driving with a suspended license, the victim would not have incurred damages." Id. at 937 (citing Glaubius, 688 So.2d at 915) (emphasis supplied).2 The Fourth District certified conflict with the Fifth District's opinion in Cheek, which held that restitution could not be imposed for damages arising from an accident in which the defendant was driving with a suspended license at the time of the accident. See Schuette, 782 So.2d at 937.

ANALYSIS

In this case, the State sought restitution for the victim's medical bills and lost wages arising from an automobile accident that occurred while the defendant was driving with a suspended license. The legal issue presented is whether the trial court is required to order restitution for damages arising out of an automobile accident based on the underlying offense of driving with a suspended license where the State does not present any evidence of a causal relationship between the act of driving without a license and the accident that resulted in damages or loss.

Until 1993, the restitution statute, section 775.089, provided in pertinent part:

(1)(a) In addition to any punishment, the court shall order the defendant to make restitution to the victim for damage or loss caused directly or indirectly by the defendant's offense, unless it finds clear and compelling reasons not to order such restitution.

§ 775.089, Fla. Stat. (Supp.1992). In 1993, the Legislature amended this subsection of 775.089 by adding subsection (1)(a)(2), so that the current version of the statute provides in pertinent part:

(1)(a) In addition to any punishment, the court shall order the defendant to make restitution to the victim for:
1. Damage or loss caused directly or indirectly by the defendant's offense; and
2. Damage or loss related to the defendant's criminal episode, unless it finds clear and compelling reasons not to order such restitution.

§ 775.089(1)(a), Fla. Stat. (2001).3 The State has the burden of establishing causation, see Glaubius, 688 So.2d at 915, as well as the "burden of demonstrating the amount of loss sustained by the victim as a result of the offense." § 775.089(7), Fla. Stat. (1999). Further, the State must establish both causation and the amount of loss or damages by a preponderance of the evidence. See Glaubius, 688 So.2d at 915.

The Second District in Ochoa, 596 So.2d at 515, reversed an award of restitution for damages caused by the automobile accident where the defendant was charged with both leaving the scene of an accident with injury or death and driving without a valid driver's license. The Second District reasoned that the "damages were not sufficiently related to either of the offenses of which he was convicted." Id. (emphasis supplied). Similarly, in Stewart, 571 So.2d at 487, the Second District vacated a trial court's restitution order stemming from the defendant's convictions for driving with a suspended license and leaving the scene of an accident. The Second District concluded that "the suspension of the petitioner's license was an existing condition, not the cause of the accident. Because the driving with a suspended license was not the cause of the accident, it had no relationship to the damages suffered by the other driver." Id. at 486 (emphasis supplied).

In Cheek, the Fifth District quashed a trial court's order of restitution for damages arising from an automobile accident "because the fact that [the defendant's] license was suspended was not causally related to the crash." 700 So.2d at 731 (emphasis supplied). Judge Sharp dissented, and relying on our opinion in J.O.S. v. State, 689 So.2d 1061, 1064 (Fla. 1997), reasoned that as a result of the 1993 amendment, the restitutionary obligation was expanded to include damages or loss "significantly related to the defendant's offense." Cheek, 700 So.2d at 732 (Sharp, J., dissenting) (emphasis supplied). Thus, Judge Sharp concluded that restitution was required because "Cheek's criminal episode began when he started driving without a valid license," and the damages to the other vehicle were significantly related to the criminal episode. Id.

In order to resolve the conflict issue presented in this case, we begin by reviewing the case law from this Court. The Court first addressed the requirements for restitution in criminal cases in J.S.H. v. State, 472 So.2d 737, 737 (Fla.1985), where the trial court ordered a juvenile defendant to pay restitution for the damage he caused while attempting to steal radio equipment from a boat.4 The Court explained that the damage for which the trial court orders restitution need not be directly encompassed within the legal elements of an offense, but it must "bear a significant relationship to the convicted offense." Id. at 738 (emphasis supplied). The Court concluded that the damage to the boat, including some severed wires and a hole cut into the hull, was a direct result of the attempted theft of the radio equipment and was necessary for the commission of the crime. See id. Therefore, the Court held that a significant relationship existed between the damages and the offense, and thus the trial court properly ordered restitution. See id. In Williams, 520 So.2d at 277, the Court interpreted section 775.089(1)(a), Florida Statutes (1985), the predecessor statute to the present statute, which provided that the court "shall order the defendant to make restitution to the victim for damage or loss caused directly or indirectly by the defendant's offense." In Williams, the defendant was convicted of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in personal injury, and the trial court ordered her to pay restitution as a condition of probation. Id. Although agreeing that damages resulted from the accident, Williams argued that no damages were caused, either directly or indirectly, by her offense of leaving the scene of an accident. See id. The State maintained that leaving the scene was just one link in the chain of events in which the injuries took place. See id. Consequently, the State argued that the events consisting of an accident in which people were injured, and Williams' hasty departure,...

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