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Court may consider SSI in restitution order

March 20, 2012

The Indiana Supreme Court sided with the federal courts that have concluded courts may consider one’s Social Security income when determining how much a person may pay in restitution.

The issue arose in Rebecca D. Kays v. State of Indiana,No. 42S05-1107-CR-441, in which Rebecca Kays appealed the order that she pay more than $1,400 in restitution to her neighbor after Kays was convicted of misdemeanor battery. Kays claimed that her sole source of income is Social Security disability payments, and she lacked the ability to pay it. The trial court said she could pay it over a period of time.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, finding the trial court didn’t properly look into Kays’ ability to pay and failed to establish the manner and time of her payments. The judges also ordered the trial court to ignore her SSI in its determination of her ability to pay restitution because they held that a restitution order is an “other legal process” pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 407(a) which cannot be applied to Social Security benefits.

The justices agreed that the issue should be sent back to the trial court for a determination of Kays’ ability to pay and how she’d make those payments. But, they disagreed with the COA that SSI is exempt from consideration with regards to restitution payments.

Justice Robert Rucker noted there is scant case authority as to whether Social Security benefits can be taken into consideration to determine a fine or restitution, but the high court found several federal cases to be persuasive, including United States v. Smith, 47 F.3d 681, 684, (4th Cir. 1995).

“In concert with the reasoning of these opinions, we find nothing in 42 U.S.C. § 407(a) to prohibit a trial court from considering a defendant’s social security income when determining the ‘amount the person can or will be able to pay’ in restitution pursuant to Indiana Code section 35-38-2-2.3(a)(5),” Rucker wrote.  

 

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