Legal Alerts Dec 22, 2015

California Appellate Court Clarifies Proper Amount of Evidence Required to Support Restitution Order

Question Considered in Graffiti Abatement Case

California Appellate Court Clarifies Proper Amount of Evidence Required to Support Restitution Order

A recent California Appellate Court decision regarding restitution evidence in a graffiti abatement case clarifies the sort of evidence cities should present in restitution hearings, and indicates how the court will analyze whether a factual nexus exists between the damage caused and the restitution requested.

In People v. Santori, the Second District Court of Appeal found that specific evidence of the costs incurred to abate graffiti was sufficient to uphold a restitution order. In the case, decided Friday, the City of Palmdale sought restitution for several acts of graffiti. While on probation for vandalism and subject to search conditions, the defendant’s phone was searched and deputies observed pictures of graffiti — including defendant’s moniker. The defendant, Anthony Santori, admitted the moniker was his, and the City presented evidence it had abated numerous instances of graffiti with that moniker. Santori admitted responsibility for 36 incidents, and the City sought restitution. 

At the restitution hearing, the City’s crime prevention officer testified, analyzing the cost to abate the graffiti by considering the costs of the cleanup crew, administrative costs, her salary, costs to hire a deputy sheriff, and the cost of computer software the City uses to track graffiti. Based on these costs, she developed a “per minute cost” to abate graffiti, determined the average time it took the City to abate each act, and, from there, determined the restitution request.

While the California Supreme Court previously overturned a restitution order because no factual nexus existed between the minor’s conduct and the juvenile court’s restitution order, the appellate court found this case distinguishable due to the evidence presented as to the City’s costs in abating the specific conduct in the matter at hand. In Louis M. v. Superior Court, the Supreme Court indicated that the calculation of restitution requests must have some factual nexus to the damage caused by the minor’s conduct. The appellate court in People v. Santori determined such a nexus was sufficiently established by the crime prevention officer’s testimony, and so the restitution order was upheld.

This case gives cities a greater idea of what evidence courts will require to grant restitution orders, and should provide a guide for how analysis of costs incurred should be conducted going forward. It is not sufficient to arrive in court with a number and little more. Rather, cities should develop a process for determining costs incurred, and should have an individual prepared to testify to that process at restitution hearings. The exact amount of detail required is unclear at the moment, as it is possible an order with less evidence than was present in Santori might be upheld — but the evidence presented in this case was sufficient to allow the order to be upheld on appeal.

For more information regarding this case or its implications for your agency or public safety department, please contact one of the attorney authors of this Legal Alert listed at the right in the firm’s Public Safety group, or your BB&K attorney.

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