Justices weigh restitution order linked to car theft

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The Indiana Supreme Court will decide if the state properly assessed restitution against a woman convicted of auto theft after hearing oral arguments Thursday morning that suggested there was no evidence directly linking her to some of the damage to the vehicle.

In Justine Archer v. State of Indiana, 49S04-1705-CR-00288, Justine Archer was found driving Robin Boyer’s stolen vehicle, which was located with fresh red paint on the front of the vehicle, on the VIN inside the vehicle and on a section of the front window covering the VIN. Archer agreed to plead guilty to auto theft and pay restitution that, if paid in full, would result in alternative misdemeanor sentencing.

Further, in the agreement, Archer waived her right to appeal her sentence. However, the amount of restitution Archer would be required to pay was left blank on her plea agreement, which public defender Victoria Bailey said gave her the ability to appeal the $5,240.32 she was eventually ordered to pay.

The total amount of restitution included repairs required for the damage cause by the red spray paint, but Bailey argued the cost of that damage should not have been assessed against Archer because the state failed to prove she committed the act of painting the car. Archer was not charged with criminal mischief, Bailey said, but instead pleaded guilty to unauthorized control over the vehicle, a charge that does not include the crime of painting the car.

The Court of Appeals reached a similar conclusion in a February memorandum decision, which reversed the restitution order and remanded the case for a hearing on the actual loss Boyer suffered. A remand requiring the state to provide more evidence connecting Archer to the spray painting is all she is seeking on appeal, Bailey said.

Justice Mark Massa noted the case seemed to turn on the interpretation of Indiana Code section 35-50-5-3(a), which holds restitution may be imposed “as a result of the crime.” According to Deputy Attorney General Justin Roebel, a “result” can include intended and unintended consequences, as well as actions used to facilitate the crime. In this case, that would mean the act of spray painting Boyer’s vehicle could be tied to Archer.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush noted much of the confusion in the case could have been resolved had the definition of “full restitution” been quantified in the plea agreement, but Roebel said Archer herself had asked the court to leave the restitution line blank while the amount of damage to the car was being assessed so that the court could accept her plea agreement immediately.

But Roebel also conceded that if the parties had clearly agreed the blank space on the plea agreement was a “blank check,” rather than just an empty line, much of the confusion would have been alleviated. Faced with further questioning about the idea of a blank check from Justice Geoffrey Slaughter, Roebel said if the agreement had included language clearly indicating Archer would have to pay an amount later decided by the parties, much of the confusion regarding what restitution she had to pay could have been avoided.

As the situation stands now, Bailey said the state has not offered enough evidence directly linking Archer to the spray paint, which she said means Archer cannot be charged with restitution for that damage. Any evidence the state does have could be reviewed on the remand Archer is requesting, Bailey said.

The full oral arguments can be watched here.


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