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How long does the Court have to order restitution in a Washington criminal case?

Posted by Brian C. Zuanich | Jul 04, 2019 | 0 Comments

Show Me The Money

Civil cases are about money. Criminal cases are about punishment.

Usually, that is. Except when criminal cases are also about money. Sometimes, criminal cases are all about the money, like State v. Barbee, a Washington Supreme Court decided yesterday.

It's not difficult to see why Shacon Barbee received a lengthy prison sentence in King County Superior Court. He was a pimp who made money from prostituting young women. He also stole money from the social security administration (SSA) and Washington Health Care (HCA) Authority—receiving regular payments by falsely claiming poverty and disability. Not surprisingly, he didn't report his prostitution-related income to SSA or HCA.

The State charged Barbee with a variety of crimes and he was ultimately convicted of promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor and promoting prostitution. He was also convicted of theft in the first degree from both the SSA and HCA. As part of his sentence, the Court ordered Barbee to pay restitution to the SSA.

What is Restitution?

Restitution is money damages linked to a specific victim and specific crime. The purpose of restitution is to rehabilitate the defendant and compensate the victim for his or her injuries. Therefore, restitution is linked to a particular offense and a particular victim. Restitution is where the civil justice system meets the criminal justice system.

Under Washington law (RCW 9.94A.753), a court must determine restitution within 180 days of sentencing. In practice, this means the State has 180 days from the defendant's sentencing to figure out how much money the defendant owes and provide adequate support to both the court and the defendant.

If the defendant disputes the restitution amount, the court will hold a contested restitution hearing—basically, a mini-trial devoted solely to the issue of money. If the defendant doesn't , then the State just presents an agreed order for the court to sign.

Re-Sentencing Means Sentencing

The trial judge initially sentenced Barbee in 2013 but Barbee appealed his sentence. He partially won his appeal; the appellate courts determined that he was improperly sentenced on one of his charges and sent the case back to the trial judge for re-sentencing.

The trial court sentenced Barbee again in 2017. As in 2013, the State requested restitution but this time the State sought restitution for both the SSA and HCA. The judge ordered restitution to both agencies.

Barbee appealed again. This time, he claimed that the trial court improperly awarded restitution because more than 180 days had elapsed since the court had initially sentenced him for the HCA theft. This time, Barbee lost.

The parties disagreed about when Barbee's sentencing hearing occurred. Barbee said 2013. The State said 2017. The Court agreed with the State.

When the trial court re-sentenced Barbee, his re-sentencing date became the effective sentencing date under RCW 9.94A.753. This makes logical sense, the Court reasoned. The trial judge presided over a whole new sentencing hearing in 2017, entered a new judgment and sentence, and imposed a different prison sentence than he did in 2013.

Not only does Barbee's argument illogical, it also undermines the legislative intent behind the statute. As the Supreme Court stressed, judges have “repeatedly” recognized that the “plain language” of the statute clearly states a “legislative intent” that RCW 9.94A.753 be “interpreted broadly to allow restitution.” Barbee's argument “would directly undermine” this intent by allowing him “to avoid the financial consequences of his undisputed theft from the HCA.”

For these reasons, the Court appropriately ordered Barbee to pay over $19,000 to the Washington Health Care Authority and the Social Security administration.  

About the Author

Brian C. Zuanich

I am the managing partner at Zuanich Law. I am a former prosecutor and insurance defense attorney, and have practiced law in state and federal courts for over a decade.

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