State v. Pierre

Decision Date23 June 2020
Docket NumberDA 19-0138
Parties STATE of Montana, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Raven Skye PIERRE, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

For Appellant: Gregory Dee Birdsong, Birdsong Law Office, P.C., Missoula, Montana

For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Jeffrey M. Doud, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, Steven Eschenbacher, Lake County Attorney, Polson, Montana

Justice Dirk Sandefur delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Raven Skye Pierre (Pierre) appeals his judgment of conviction and sentence in the Montana Twentieth Judicial District Court, Lake County, on the offense of burglary, a felony. We address the following issue:

Whether the District Court erroneously required Pierre to pay restitution for losses resulting from offenses committed by others absent evidence of criminal accountability or a causal connection between his offense and those losses?

¶2 Reversed and remanded.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

¶3 In 2018, Elden and Betty White (the Whites) were away on an extended trip when a Lake County sheriff's detective received a report of an apparent burglary of the main house on their residential property in Polson, Montana (White property). Upon setup of various surveillance cameras and subsequent investigation, the detective ascertained that a group of five associates involved with methamphetamine use variously entered into the main house, a separate garage/barn, and/or a separate guest house on the White property on several occasions in June-July 2018 with the purpose of stealing property therefrom. The burglars apparently entered the main house through an unlocked sliding door, kicked in the door to the guest house, and simply walked into the doorless garage/barn.

¶4 After the investigation focused on him as one of the persons involved in the White burglaries, Pierre admitted to law enforcement that he was present at least twice with his associates on the larger White property with knowledge that they intended to and were in fact burgling various structures on the property. Pierre admitted that he personally entered the guest house on one occasion, and removed collectible dolls found therein. He adamantly denied, however, ever entering the main house or otherwise aiding the others in the commission of any main house burglary or theft. Consistent with his denial, law enforcement surveillance cameras did not capture Pierre entering or leaving any of the White property structures.

¶5 The investigating detective eventually obtained a warrant to search the home of Vickie Hitchcock, Pierre's roommate and another of the suspected White property burglars. In Pierre's bedroom, the detective found and recovered the collectible dolls Pierre admitted taking from the White guest house. Also found and recovered from the bedroom were one or more sets of antlers missing from the White garage/barn. The detective was ultimately unable, however, to develop particularized information indicating that, beyond his after-the-fact possession of stolen antlers and his admitted entry and theft from the guest house, Pierre actually participated or aided/abetted others in the related burglaries of the White main house or garage/barn. The State consequently charged Pierre with only one offense—a single count of burglary of the White guest house.1

¶6 Pierre subsequently pled guilty via plea agreement to burgling the guest house as charged. In conjunction with similar recommendations in separate cases independently charging him with methamphetamine possession and burglary at a different location, the plea agreement called for the State to recommend a three-year deferred imposition of sentence with restitution to be determined. Upon his change of plea, the District Court adjudicated Pierre guilty of burglary, ordered a presentence investigation (PSI) by the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC), and set a sentencing date.

¶7 Based on the insurance accounting and proceeds previously paid to the Whites under their homeowners insurance policy, the DOC PSI reported $43,294.46 as the total amount of pecuniary loss sustained by the Whites as a result of the undifferentiated June-July 2018 burglaries and thefts of and from their property. By prior written objection, and again at hearing, Pierre objected to the court's intent, stated at the change of plea hearing, to impose joint and several liability for the entire pecuniary loss sustained by the Whites, regardless of who actually participated in each of the separate incidents of burglary and theft from the various structures on their property.

¶8 At the sentencing hearing, under cross-examination, the investigating sheriff's detective acknowledged that he had no non-speculative evidence indicating that Pierre had in fact entered the main house, otherwise participated in any of the main house burglaries or thefts, or took any affirmative act to aid or abet the others in the commission of those burglaries and thefts. Though he later found Pierre in possession of antlers taken from the White garage/barn, the detective also acknowledged the lack of any non-speculative evidence indicating that Pierre was the person who entered the garage/barn, removed the antlers therefrom, or otherwise aided or abetted others in doing so. Based on those acknowledgments, and the additional fact that the stolen dolls and antlers found in his possession were recovered undamaged, Pierre asserted at sentencing that there was no evidentiary basis upon which to make him responsible for any pecuniary loss sustained by the Whites as a result of any of the June-July 2018 burglaries and thefts at issue.

¶9 The District Court concluded, however, that Pierre should be jointly and severally responsible with his associates for the entire amount of pecuniary loss sustained by the Whites as a result of the June-July 2018 burglaries because he was knowingly present outside on the property on at least two occasions when his associates burgled and stole from the main house.2 The court reasoned that "people are jointly and sever[ally] liable for damages ... caused when they're working with people that are involved in criminal activities." The court thus ordered that Pierre was jointly and severally liable with his unnamed and separately charged associates for the total undifferentiated amount of pecuniary loss ($43,294.46) sustained by the Whites as a result of all of the subject June-July 2018 burglaries and thefts from the various structures on their property. Pierre timely appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶10 We review criminal restitution orders for compliance with §§ 46-18-241 through -249, MCA. See State v. Dodge , 2017 MT 318, ¶ 6, 390 Mont. 69, 408 P.3d 510 ; State v. Johnson , 2011 MT 116, ¶ 13, 360 Mont. 443, 254 P.3d 578 ; State v. Pritchett , 2000 MT 261, ¶ 7, 302 Mont. 1, 11 P.3d 539. We review related conclusions and applications of law de novo for correctness. Pritchett , ¶ 18. We review related findings of fact only for clear error. Johnson , ¶ 13. Findings of fact are clearly erroneous only if not supported by substantial evidence, the lower court clearly misapprehended the effect of the evidence, or we are firmly convinced upon our review of the record that the court was otherwise mistaken. State v. Spina , 1999 MT 113, ¶ 12, 294 Mont. 367, 982 P.2d 421.

DISCUSSION

¶11 Whether the District Court erroneously required Pierre to pay restitution for losses resulting from offenses committed by others absent evidence of criminal accountability or a causal connection between his offense and those losses?

¶12 Upon sentencing in a criminal case, courts must require defendants to pay restitution in an amount sufficient to fully compensate victims for all pecuniary loss substantiated by record evidence to have been caused by the defendant's criminal conduct. Sections 46-18-201(5), -241(1), and -243(1), MCA.3 See also, e.g., State v. Brownback , 2010 MT 96, ¶¶ 20-23 and 25, 356 Mont. 190, 232 P.3d 385 (direct or indirect "causal relation between the offender's criminal conduct and [asserted] pecuniary loss is the touchstone for determining" entitlement to restitution); State v. Breeding , 2008 MT 162, ¶¶ 13 and 18-19, 343 Mont. 323, 184 P.3d 313 (noting "causal standard" embodied in § 46-18-243(1) - (2), MCA ). Paraphrased as a causation standard, an offender's statutory restitution obligation is expressly limited, as pertinent, to loss suffered "as a result of the commission of an offense " and constituting substantiated "special damages ... recover[able] against the offender in a civil action arising out of the facts or events constituting the offender's criminal activities " or the "replacement cost of property taken, destroyed, harmed, or otherwise devalued as a result of the offender's criminal conduct ." See §§ 46-18-241(1), -243(1)(a)-(b), (2)(a)(i)(A), and (2)(a)(ii)(A), MCA (defining recoverable "pecuniary loss" and referencing pecuniary loss sustained by statutorily defined "victims"emphasis added).4 Consequently, an offender is responsible only for pecuniary victim losses he or she has agreed to pay or that are directly or indirectly caused by an offense he or she committed or is criminally accountable. State v. Simpson , 2014 MT 175, ¶ 14, 375 Mont. 393, 328 P.3d 1144 (citing Breeding , ¶ 19 ); In re B.W. , 2014 MT 27, ¶¶ 18-21, 23-24, and 29-30, 373 Mont. 409, 318 P.3d 682 ; Brownback , ¶¶ 20-23 and 25 ; Breeding , ¶¶ 13, 16, and 19-20 ; State v. Beavers , 2000 MT 145, ¶¶ 10-12, 300 Mont. 49, 3 P.3d 614, overruled on other grounds by State v. Herman , 2008 MT 187, ¶ 12, 343 Mont. 494, 188 P.3d 978. Accord City of Billings v. Edward , 2012 MT 186, ¶¶ 27-30, 366 Mont. 107, 285 P.3d 523.

¶13 The sentencing court may find the requisite causal nexus for restitution, between an offender's admitted or adjudicated criminal conduct and the asserted victim loss, upon an admission, by implication from proof of the...

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  • State v. Zeimer
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • 24 Mayo 2022
    ...of the evidence, or we are firmly and definitely convinced on our review of the record that the court was otherwise mistaken. State v. Pierre , 2020 MT 160, ¶ 10, 400 Mont. 283, 466 P.3d 494 (citing State v. Spina , 1999 MT 113, ¶ 12, 294 Mont. 367, 982 P.2d 421 ); State v. Maile , 2017 MT ......
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    ...and definitely convinced on our review of the record that the court was otherwise mistaken. State v. Pierre, 2020 MT 160, ¶ 10, 400 Mont. 283, 466 P.3d 494 State v. Spina, 1999 MT 113, ¶ 12, 294 Mont. 367, 982 P.2d 421); State v. Maile, 2017 MT 154, ¶ 8, 388 Mont. 33, 396 P.3d 1270. DISCUSS......
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    ...against the offender in a civil action arising out of the facts or events constituting the offender's criminal activities[.]" State v. Pierre , 2020 MT 160, ¶ 12, 400 Mont. 283, 466 P.3d 494 (citations omitted). "Consequently, an offender is responsible only for pecuniary victim losses he o......
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