RESTITUTION IS A SENTENCE AND MUST BE SPECIFIED AT TIME OF SENTENCING OR … SENTENCE WILL BE VACATED

The PA Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Ramos, No. 564 MDA 2018 (October 10, 2018), holding that a sentence intended to include restitution, which is initially entered without a definite amount and a method of payment, is illegal and must be vacated in its entirety.

In this case, the Defendant entered a nolo contendere plea for one count of criminal mischief as a summary offense. The court immediately sentenced Defendant to a fine of $50.00 plus court costs and then ordered a separate restitution hearing at a later date. That restitution hearing was held approximately six months later, after which time the court ordered Defendant to pay $800.00 in restitution.

The Defendant argued that imposition of restitution at a hearing six months after her initial sentencing constituted an illegal sentence. She also claimed the court lacked tangible evidence to prove the victim actually had to pay for the damage Appellant caused. And, finally, the Defendant contested the court’s imposition of restitution in the amount of $800.00 as completely speculative and the Superior Court should, therefore, vacate the order of restitution.

The Superior Court noted that, in criminal proceedings, an order of restitution is a sentence (even when imposed as a condition of probation). It is not an award of damages and, recompense to the victim is secondary.

The Superior Court noted that, in certain cases, the trial court has authority to modify a restitution order as permitted by statute, taking into account that the full amount of restitution might be indeterminable at the time of sentencing. However, the Superior Court further noted that the trial court has no authority to impose a generalized, open-ended sentence of restitution, leaving the amount and method of payment to be determined at a later date.

Judgment of sentence was vacated and, the case remanded for re-sentencing consistent with the Superior Court’s opinion.

CASE LINK: http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Superior/out/Opinion%20%20VacatedRemanded%20%2010373009942876130.pdf?cb=1

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