State v. Boffer, 90-0518-CR

Decision Date17 October 1990
Docket NumberNo. 90-0518-CR,90-0518-CR
Citation462 N.W.2d 906,158 Wis.2d 655
PartiesSTATE of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Thomas BOFFER, Defendant-Appellant. d
CourtWisconsin Court of Appeals

Elizabeth E. Stephens, Asst. State Public Defender, on the briefs, for defendant-appellant.

Donald J. Hanaway, Atty. Gen., and Marguerite M. Moeller, Asst. Atty. Gen., on the brief, for plaintiff-respondent.



Thomas Boffer appeals from a judgment of conviction and an order of the trial court denying his postconviction motion to modify restitution that had been ordered as a condition of probation. Boffer argues that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering him to reimburse an insurance company for the replacement cost of stolen property, in ignoring prior testimony on the value of the stolen property and in failing to consider his ability to pay restitution.

We affirm the trial court because we conclude that the trial court did exercise its discretion in selecting from a menu of restitution alternatives available to it and in ignoring stale testimony on the value of the stolen property. We also hold that Boffer failed to meet his burden of proof on the question of his inability to pay restitution.

Boffer entered a plea of guilty to one felony count of receiving stolen property, sec. 943.34(1)(b), Stats. 1 The trial court found him guilty, and, after two restitution hearings, the court withheld sentence and placed Boffer on probation for three years. One of the conditions of probation requires him to pay restitution of $2242.07.

The testimony presented at the restitution hearings established that a built-in stereo system had been removed from a boat at the Great Lakes Yacht Sales storage yard in Kenosha and that the boat had been damaged during the removal of the stereo. The boat's owner, Bernard Black, received an insurance settlement of $2377.07, which included the replacement cost of the stereo, $2242.07.

Boffer's appeal presents two challenges that require us to apply two well-known standards of review. His first challenge is to the trial court's authority to order him to pay restitution equal to the replacement cost of the stereo; this challenge presents a question of law that we review without deference to the trial court. Boffer's second challenge is to the trial court's discretionary decisions selecting the measure of restitution and its decision to regard previous testimony concerning the value of the stereo; this challenge requires us to determine whether the trial court abused its discretion.

Any person convicted of a crime may be ordered to pay restitution under sec. 973.20(1), Stats. 2 The sentencing court is given a menu of alternative measures of restitution: sec. 973.20(2) may be applied when the crime resulted in damage or loss of property; sec. 973.20(3) may be applied when the crime caused bodily injury; sec. 973.20(4) may be applied when the crime caused death; and the choices of sec. 973.20(5) may be applied in any case.

Boffer argues that under sec. 973.20(5)(a), Stats., the maximum amount of restitution he could be ordered to pay cannot exceed special damages in a civil proceeding. 3 The argument is unpersuasive because Boffer is confused about the difference between general and special damages.

General damages are those said to be necessarily implied from the wrong, whereas special damages are those attributable to the wrong by reason of circumstances not generally present in such situations. Stated another way, general damages are those that necessarily result from the injury regardless of its special character, the conditions, or the [victim's] circumstances; special damages are those that may be present as the result of a wrongful act, depending on the factual circumstances, and that may be granted along with an award of general damages.

1 The Law of Damages in Wisconsin sec. 1.6 (R. Ware ed. 1988) (emphasis in original; citations omitted).

Contrary to Boffer's argument, sec. 973.20(5)(a), Stats., is not a ceiling on damages; rather, its purpose is to include, within the coverage of the statute, damages and situations not set forth in the preceding subsections. Subsection (a) clearly allows a sentencing court to award special damages if there are no general damages, i.e., the property is returned to the victim who suffered emotional distress. The unambiguous meaning of subsec. (a) is supported by subsecs. (b) and (c), which permit the court to award special or incidental damages in addition to general damages. Finally, subsec. (d) permits reimbursement of a third person and not the victim.

It is Boffer's position that because the stereo was recovered his restitution obligation should be satisfied upon return of the stereo. He insists that the insurance company should take the stereo back and credit him either with the price obtained on the sale of the stereo or its salvage value. The sentencing court held that Boffer was now the owner of the stereo and he could sell it and apply the proceeds toward the restitution he had been ordered to pay.

Boffer's argument ignores sec. 973.20(2), Stats., which explicitly applies to lost property:

(2) If the crime resulted in damage to or loss or destruction of property, the restitution order may require that the defendant:

(a) Return the property to the owner or owner's designee; or

(b) If return of the property under par. (a) is impossible, impractical or inadequate, pay the owner or owner's designee the reasonable repair or replacement cost.... [Emphasis added.]

The sentencing court is given several choices under this plainly worded statute; in this case the sentencing court selected the reasonable replacement cost as the measure of restitution. In making this selection the sentencing court found that the victim had used the check from his insurer to purchase and install a new stereo and that it would be impractical to require the victim to tear out the existing system because the stolen system had been recovered. The sentencing court also found it was impractical to have the insurer sell the electronics. Boffer quarrels with these findings and the sentencing court's selection of the measure of restitution. We do not.

Boffer ignores the simple language of a statute that permits the court to fashion the punishment to fit the crime. The statute is obviously drafted to fit neatly into the court's sentencing discretion. The various sections of the statute are not mutually exclusive, rather they complement each other permitting the court to order restitution that will make the victim whole within the defendant's ability to pay.

We affirm the sentencing court's order that requires Boffer to pay the actual replacement cost of the stereo rather than a lesser amount. The court properly selected and applied sec. 973.20(2)(b), Stats., to the facts of this case.

Boffer complains that the court abused its discretion in refusing to consider testimony presented at the preliminary examination that the fair market value of the stereo was between $600 and $1000. This complaint fails for two reasons. First, the testimony offered at the preliminary examination was solely for the purpose of establishing probable cause that a...

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  • State v. Fernandez
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    ...of restitution involves a question of whether the trial court misused its discretionary authority. State v. Boffer, 158 Wis.2d 655, 658, 462 N.W.2d 906, 907-08 (Ct.App.1990). This court may reverse a discretionary decision if the trial court applied the wrong legal standard or did not groun......
  • State v. Gill
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    ...948, 244 Cal.Rptr. 82 (1988); so does Wisconsin, unless fair market value is greater. W.S.A. § 973.20(2) and see State v. Boffer, 158 Wis.2d 655, 462 N.W.2d 906 (App.1990). Delaware follows a similar formula. 11 Del.C. § 4106(a), (b) and (d) and § 224, and see Pratt v. State, 486 A.2d 1154 ......
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