The Minnesota Court of Appeals filed an opinion regarding awards of restitution on October 19, 2010 that reversed a district court finding that allowed for a corporate victim to be awarded restitution more than double what they agreed to be awarded in a related civil case. See State v. Ramsay. A previous court of appeals opinion held that restitution cannot be awarded in a criminal case when there has a civil settlement between a defendant and a victim of economic loss. State v. Arends, 786 N.W.2d 885, 889 (Minn.App. 2010), pet. for review filed (Minn. Sept. 13, 2010). These recent opinions should preclude the potential for victims to come out in a better financial position by double-dipping on awards for losses incurred.
The Defendant, while an employee of the corporate victim, did engage in unlawful use of company credit cards and took company money illegally. It is estimated that Defendant stole approximately $125,000. The company filed a civil suit to regain the stolen property from Defendant, in addition, the Defendant faced criminal penalties arising out of the same conduct. In the civil matter, the parties agreed that the Defendant would pay back the stolen amount and an additional $20,000 for costs incurred by the victim for attorney and litigation fees. However, in the criminal matter, the corporate victim requested a restitution award against the Defendant of over $86,000 in addition to the $125,000. The district court denied the requested restitution award, but did award the corporate victim an additional $46,000 despite the civil agreement that the additional amount would only be $20,000. The district court reasoned that the $46,000 restitution award was appropriate. The district court further reasoned a judge presiding over a criminal matter has no obligation to accept and/or enforce an agreement that was reached in a civil case as they are separate matters.
The purpose of restitution is to attempt to put the victim back in the same position he or she had been had the conduct not occurred. However, in this particular case it was inherently unfair for the corporate victim to agree to only an additional $20,000 in the civil matter, but be awarded an additional $46,000 in the criminal matter. The corporate victim was not required to enter into the agreement for $20,000 in the civil matter, and could have requested a higher award. If the Defendant were unwilling to agree to a higher award in the civil matter, the corporate victim could have sought further civil litigation. The Court of Appeals correctly reversed the district court’s decision in finding that the corporate victim’s agreement to be legally bound to a $20,000 civil award should preclude them from seeking any additional amounts in the criminal case.
There is no doubt that the corporate victim deserves to be compensated, and that the Defendant should have to repay the total amount taken in addition to any costs incurred by the corporate victim. However, the district court’s opinion that, in essence, a victim should not have to be bound in criminal court by a legal agreement in civil court raises doubts as to the power of the legal system and the courts. In addition, this permission to double up any losses simply goes against common sense and the purpose of restitution. The Court of Appeals was correct in determining the district court’s restitution award was unfair.
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