High court affirms restitution order in auto theft

The Indiana Supreme Court has affirmed a restitution order of more than $5,000 against a woman convicted of stealing a vehicle, finding the trial court did not err in determining damage to the vehicle was caused by the theft and that the woman has or will have the ability to pay.

In February 2016, Robin Boyer’s vehicle was stolen after she left is unlocked and running while it warmed up. Police located the vehicle about five hours later with Justine Archer driving it and with red paint found on the front of it, on the vehicle identification number, on the inside and on a section of the window covering the VIN.

Archer was arrested and pleaded guilty to Level 6 felony auto theft pursuant to a plea agreement, which also waived her right to appeal her sentence as long as it was imposed within the terms of the agreement. The plea agreement also required Archer to make restitution, but the amount was left blank.

Boyer testified during a restitution hearing that the spray paint-related repairs and replacements would cost her $5,240.32, so Archer was ordered to pay restitution in that amount through $25 monthly payments. Archer appealed that order, arguing the state did not present evidence that she had caused the damage and that there was no evidence she could or would be able to pay.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the restitution order in a February memorandum decision, determining Archer didn’t waive her appeal because “the amount of restitution was not fixed nor did the parties specifically agree to give the trial court the discretion to determine the amount of restitution without any prospect of appellate review.” The appellate court also determined the record did not prove the spray paint damage was attributable to the theft.

The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer and heard arguments of the case of Justine Archer v. State of Indiana, 49S04-1705-CR-288, in June, then affirmed the trial court’s restitution order in a Wednesday opinion.

Justice Steve David, writing for the unanimous court, wrote Archer did not waive her right to appeal the amount of the restitution order by signing the plea agreement. That’s because the agreement did not specify the amount of restitution, so the amount cannot be considered a “term” of the agreement, David wrote.

David went on to write it was reasonable to infer the spray paint damage was related to the underlying theft, as it was used to change the vehicle’s appearance or to conceal the VIN so it could not be recognized as stolen. Further, Archer was the person found driving the vehicle, so it can be inferred that she was responsible for the painting, even if she did not physically paint the vehicle herself, he noted.

“We also note again that Archer agreed to pay restitution here,” David wrote. “Because the spray-paint is the only damage to the vehicle, if Archer was not assuming responsibility for this damage, it is not clear what she was agreeing to pay restitution for.”

Finally, David and the high court held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining Archer’s ability to pay restitution because Archer testified as to her lack of employment and assets. The court was not required to inquire further into her financial situation, the justices held, so the court did not abuse its discretion in ordering her to pay restitution based on her testified hope of finding a job in the future.

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