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Name: People v. Dehle
Case #: C055869
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 09/18/2008

Because a restitution hearing is a sentencing hearing and is a significant part of a criminal prosecution, the prosecution cannot delegate its authority to conduct the hearing to a private prosecutor. Appellant was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and placed on probation for three years. At the sentencing hearing, the prosecutor, over appellant’s objection, asked the court to authorize the attorney for the widow to conduct the restitution hearing. The court indicated that it believed that it was proper for the district attorney’s office to participate in the hearing but did not preclude private counsel from being present. At a subsequent conference, the prosecutor again renewed his request and appellant again objected. Despite appellant’s objection, at the later restitution hearing, neither the prosecutor or his deputies appeared. Once again appellant objected but to no avail and the court held the hearing with private counsel presenting the evidence which consisted of testimony from decedent’s employer, a retired economics professor, and the widow. Appellant presented testimony from a certified public account. The court awarded restitution for future lost earnings and future household services but did not award for attorney fees, which were not requested. The appellate court reversed and remanded, directing that a new restitution hearing be held. Pursuant to the Government Code, the district attorney is the public prosecutor and California law does not authorize private prosecutions. The obligation of the public prosecutor, who represents the People, is to govern impartially with an end toward justice, and a private attorney representing a specific interest cannot guarantee such impartiality and does not represent the interests of the People. In this case, the People had the right to be heard on several issues that may have affected a fair and just result, such as whether the victim contributed to his negligence, whether the spouse should receive attorney fees, and the proper measure of economic loss. The appellate court recommended that when the lower court conducted the new restitution hearing, it consider the analysis provided in People v. Giordano (2007) 42 Cal.4th 644, for guidance on the question of compensable loss in a restitution claim.