Town of Gilbert Prosecutor’s Office v. Downie – 8/4/2008

August 8, 2008

Arizona Supreme Court Holds that Restitution Statute Requires Consideration of Any Benefits Conferred on Victim When Determining Criminal Restitution for Violations of Contractor Licensing Statutes.

Defendant was found guilty of contracting without a license in violation of A.R.S. § 32-1151.  The municipal court, relying on State v. Wilkinson, 202Ariz. 27 (2002), ordered Defendant to pay restitution of the full sum paid by the victims to the unlicensed contractor Defendant, disregarding the value of the work done on the victims’ house.  On appeal, the superior court vacated the restitution order and remanded for a determination of the victims’ actual economic loss.  The Town ofGilbert brought a petition for special action.  The Court of Appeals granted jurisdiction, reversed, and re-imposed the prior restitution order.  The victims petitioned for review by the Arizona Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court granted jurisdiction and, in a split decision, reversed the court of appeals.  Although A.R.S. § 13-603(C) requires restitution to victims “in the full amount of the [victim’s] economic loss,” courts determining such loss must also take into account any value conferred on the victim.  That is why, for example, Arizona courts credit victims with the value of returned property when considering restitution.  Because the Wilkinson Court did not consider whether losses incurred by the victim-homeowners may be reduced by the amount of benefits conferred upon them, the majority did not find the 2002 case dispositive.  The majority, therefore, reversed the court of appeals, affirmed the judgment of the superior court, and remanded to the Town ofGilbert Municipal Court for further proceedings.

Justice Berch wrote the opinion for the Court; Justices Ryan and Bales concurred.  Justice Hurwitz separately concurred.  Chief Justice McGregor dissented, finding the Wilkinson case controlling and no compelling reason to depart from stare decisis.