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Social Security income shouldn't be considered in restitution orders

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Dealing with an issue of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that Social Security income must be excluded when considering a defendant’s ability to pay restitution.

The appellate court has held that Social Security proceeds can’t be used to satisfy a civil judgment, but had yet to rule on the issue in a criminal matter. Rebecca Kays was ordered to pay nearly $1,500 to her neighbor following a misdemeanor battery conviction. The amount was based on the neighbor’s hospital bill and the court didn’t adequately consider Kays’ ability to pay. Kays’ counsel had argued that she only received $674 a month in Social Security benefits and was disabled and couldn’t work.

The judges reversed, finding the trial court didn’t do enough to inquire into Kays’ ability to pay. Sua sponte, the appellate court addressed whether 42 U.S.C.A. Section 470(a) precludes the trial court from considering SSI in determining her ability to pay restitution.

The judges looked to the Social Security Administration’s Program Operations Manual System, which says that these benefits aren’t subject to certain situations, including “other legal process,” and turned to other jurisdictions that had ruled on the matter to decide the benefits can’t be considered when ordering restitution.

“This approach comports with the purpose of social security benefits, which is to ‘assure that the recipient’s income is maintained at a level viewed by Congress as the minimum necessary for the subsistence of that individual,’” wrote Judge Melissa May in Rebecca D. Kays v. State of Indiana, No. 42A05-1007-CR-504.

The appellate court ordered the trial court to ignore Kays’ SSI when determining her ability to pay, and also sua sponte asked the lower court to consider whether it needs to recalculate the neighbor’s damages. The neighbor submitted a hospital bill for nearly $1,500, but the court didn’t inquire as to how much the neighbor actually paid out of pocket and how much her insurance may have paid.

The judges believed the reasoning from Stanley v. Walker, 906 N.E.2d 852, 857 (Ind. 2009), should be applied to criminal restitution orders to ensure that victims are compensated only for their actual loses. The lower court should determine whether the evidence submitted at trial included other documentation or testimony regarding the neighbor’s “actual cost” and if so, to recalculate her damages prior to assessing what amount Kays is able to pay, wrote Judge May.

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  1. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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