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Name: People v. Wickham
Case #: E054638
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 12/17/2013

Defendant who fraudulently induced victim to lend money at usurious interest rate must still pay pre-judgment interest on loans awarded in victim restitution order. Appellant engaged in a series of transactions with an elderly victim whereby the victim lent sums of money in exchange for promissory notes with varying rates of interest. Five of the notes stated usurious interest rates that were above the legal limit. Appellant then failed to pay back the amounts loaned. In exchange for his guilty plea to theft by false pretenses, appellant was sentenced to 16 months in state prison and ordered to pay more than $133,000 in restitution plus 10 percent in interest per year. On appeal, appellant relied on civil law to argue that the trial court erred when it awarded pre-judgment interest on the five notes with usurious interest rates. Held: Affirmed. In a civil action, the principal of a usurious transaction can be recovered, but no interest can be recovered. However, the trial court did not err by failing to follow this civil precedent when it awarded the victim pre-judgment interest. Appellant, with “unclean hands” cannot benefit from the usury laws, which are meant to protect poor, needy borrowers who are forced to resort to excessively costly loans to meet their financial needs. The doctrine of unclean hands prevents a party from obtaining relief when he has acted inequitably, as appellant did when fraudulently obtaining the money from his victim. Further, Penal Code section 1202.4, subdivision (f)(3)(G) specifically requires the court to order a criminal defendant to make restitution and the order must fully reimburse the victim, including 10 percent interest as of the date of the loss.