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Name: People v. Montiel
Case #: A150250
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 05/16/2019

Trial court was authorized to award restitution for noneconomic losses to the mother of a sexually abused child based on the mother’s own psychological harm. Defendant molested his niece (Jane Doe) and was convicted of sexual penetration of a child 10 years of age or younger (Pen. Code, § 288.7, subd. (b)) and lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14 years old (Pen. Code, § 288, subd. (a)), and was sentenced to prison. Over defense objection, the trial court ordered defendant to pay $50,000 in restitution to Jane and $20,000 in restitution to Jane’s mother for psychological harm. Defendant appealed, arguing that section 1202.4 did not authorize the trial court to award restitution to Jane’s mother for noneconomic damages. Held: Affirmed. Section 1202.4, subdivision (f)(3) provides that a restitution order, to the extent possible, shall identify each victim and each loss, and be of a dollar amount sufficient to fully reimburse the victim or victims for every economic loss as incurred as a result of the defendant’s conduct. Subdivision (f)(3)(F) defines these economic losses as including “[n]oneconomic losses, including, but not limited to, psychological harm, for felony violations of Section 288, 288.5, or 288.7.” Under subdivision (k)(3), a victim includes a person who sustained economic loss and was a parent of the victim at the time of the crime. After analyzing section 1202.4, the Court of Appeal concluded “[t]he plain language and structure of the section lead to the inexorable conclusion that parents of children who are sexually abused may be awarded restitution for noneconomic losses.” Therefore, the mother was a victim under subdivision (k)(3) and section 1202.4 authorizes compensation for her noneconomic losses. In addition, courts should construe an ambiguous statute to avoid doubts about its constitutionality, and this construction of section 1202.4 is consistent with section 28 of the California Constitution, which broadly defines restitution victims and losses.

Even if the mother was ineligible for restitution for noneconomic losses under subdivision (k)(3) because of its reference to “economic loss,” she is nevertheless eligible for restitution under subdivision (k)(4). Under section 1202.4, subdivision (k)(4), a “victim” is defined as a person who is eligible to receive assistance from the Restitution Fund. An individual who sustains injury (either physical or emotional) or death as a direct result of a crime is considered a victim under the statute that governs eligibility for receiving compensation from the Restitution Fund. (Gov. Code, § 13955, subd. (f), (g).) Thus, for purposes of compensation by the Restitution Fund, “victims” plainly include people, such as the mother, who were not the object of the defendant’s crime yet suffered their own injuries as a result. To the extent the Restitution Fund requires that the “injury or death has resulted or may result in pecuniary loss within the scope of compensation,” the Court of Appeal concluded this requirement was satisfied: “Given mother’s pending [Restitution Fund] claim, we have no trouble concluding that the emotional injury she sustained ‘has resulted or may result in pecuniary loss’ for which she would be entitled to recovery from the Restitution Fund, such as the cost of mental health services.” [Editor’s Note: Justice Banke filed a dissent, arguing the victim’s mother was not entitled to restitution for noneconomic losses. The dissent found it “telling that no case has ever considered, let alone endorsed, the majority’s view that noneconomic loss can be relabeled as economic loss and thereby awarded as statutory restitution.”]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: