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Date: 02-09-2019

Case Style:

Brenda Marie Fleisher v. Commonwealth of Virginia

Case Number: 0220183

Judge: Clyde H. Perdue, Jr.

Court: COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA

Plaintiff's Attorney: Liam A. Curry, Assistant Attorney General

Defendant's Attorney: George P. Hunt, III

Description:





On June 20, 2017, appellant and the victim became involved in an argument at a residence
in Franklin County. Appellant took the keys to the victim’s Hyundai Santa Fe and drove away in
the vehicle. She did not have permission to take the car. The Hyundai was recovered several days
later in Roanoke. However, the victim’s purse, which was in the car when appellant took it, was
missing. The victim reported that the purse contained $300 in cash and keys to her other vehicle, a
Toyota RAV4.
PUBLISHED
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Appellant was charged with felony unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and entered a no contest plea, pursuant to a plea agreement.1 The plea agreement provided that appellant would pay
restitution “in an amount to be determined by the [c]ourt after hearing evidence on the matter.” The
court accepted the plea agreement. In the conviction order, the court sentenced appellant to a term
of incarceration in the state penitentiary and suspended the sentence conditioned, in part, on a period
of supervised probation and payment of restitution in an amount “[t]o be determined.”
At the subsequent restitution hearing, appellant testified that she left the keys in the
unlocked vehicle when she abandoned it. The Commonwealth presented evidence that the victim
never recovered her purse, its contents, or any keys. The victim explained that although she had
spare keys to both the Hyundai and the Toyota, she wanted the door locks to both vehicles changed
because she was “worried that whoever stole [her] purse and has [the] Toyota key is going to come
[and] track it down . . . and drive off with [her] car.” At the time of the hearing, the victim was
securing her Toyota with a steering wheel lock.
The Commonwealth presented an estimate from a Hyundai dealership that reflected the cost
of replacing the keys and locks. The cost was $358 for the “key & cyli[nder],” $360 for labor, and
$38 in sales tax, for a total cost of $756. Appellant conceded that she was responsible for $358 in restitution.2
The Commonwealth also introduced an estimate from a Toyota dealership reflecting the cost
of ordering new keys, replacing lock cylinders on the doors, and reprogramming the computer
inside that vehicle. In an email, a Toyota representative explained that “they have to completely
1 Appellant was also charged with grand larceny in violation of Code § 18.2-95, and assault and battery in violation of Code § 18.2-57. The Commonwealth agreed to nolle prosequi those charges in exchange for appellant’s no contest plea.
2 On brief and at oral argument, appellant indicated that she understood the $358 to represent the cost of replacing the lost Hyundai key and that the $360 “labor” cost was to replace the locks.
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redo the computer” to accept new keys so that “old keys will then no longer work at all to open or
start the vehicle.” The total estimate for redoing the key-and-lock system was $2367. The cost
merely to replace the lost key was $208 plus $122 for limited programming labor. Appellant argued
that she should only be responsible for the cost of replacing the lost key, not the cost of changing the
locks and completely reprogramming the computer.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the court ordered appellant to pay $3423 in restitution.
The total included the $300 cash that was taken, $756 in costs related to the Hyundai, and $2367 in
costs related to the Toyota. The court explained “[t]hat’s [for] the keys and for her to be able to
redo the locks. The keys are out there, she doesn’t know where they are, [and] we don’t know
where they are. The car needs to be safe now.”
DISCUSSION
Appellant asserts that the court erred by ordering restitution for the cost of changing the
locks on the victim’s vehicles as part of her sentence because the locks “were neither damaged nor
lost.” The Commonwealth responds that appellant’s actions resulted in the victim losing the ability
to protect her vehicles from theft. It argues that changing the locks would assure the victim that “no
criminal actor has unfettered access to her personal property.”
“A sentencing decision will not be reversed unless the trial court abused its discretion.”
Burriesci v. Commonwealth, 59 Va. App. 50, 55 (2011) (quoting Martin v. Commonwealth, 274
Va. 733, 735 (2007)). It is immaterial that other judges “might have reached a different conclusion
than the one under review.” Du v. Commonwealth, 292 Va. 555, 564 (2016). “The exercise of
discretion . . . presupposes ‘that, for some decisions, conscientious jurists could reach different
conclusions based on exactly the same facts – yet still remain entirely reasonable.’” Id. (quoting
Thomas v. Commonwealth, 62 Va. App. 104, 111 (2013)).
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When a court suspends a sentence, it has statutory authority to require that the defendant
make restitution for causally-related losses:
After conviction . . . the court may . . . suspend the sentence in whole or part and . . . may, as a condition of a suspended sentence, require the defendant to make at least partial restitution to the aggrieved party or parties for damages or loss caused by the offense for which convicted.

Code § 19.2-303 (emphasis added). Similarly, the terms of probation may require a defendant to
make restitution “to the aggrieved party . . . for damages or loss caused by the offense for which
conviction was had.” Code § 19.2-305(B) (emphasis added). Code § 19.2-305.1(A) mandates that
“no person convicted of a crime . . . which resulted in property damage or loss, shall be placed on
probation or have his sentence suspended unless such person shall make at least partial restitution
for such property damage or loss.”
The Supreme Court has interpreted the statutory language “damages or loss caused by the
offense” to limit restitution to costs “directly caused by the offense” and not merely “related to” the
offense. Howell v. Commonwealth, 274 Va. 737, 741 (2007). “Costs that result only indirectly
from the offense, that are a step removed from the defendant’s conduct, are too remote and are
inappropriate for a restitution payment.” Id. See also Shelton v. Commonwealth, 66 Va. App. 1,
7-8 (2016) (affirming restitution order to reimburse police officer’s medical expenses where
defendant’s escape was a “but for” cause of the injuries, and “there [were] no issues of remoteness
or attenuation”). Appellant argues that ordering her to pay for changing the locks violates the
requirement in Howell that limits restitution to losses “directly caused by the offense.” We
disagree.
In Howell, after the defendant burglarized a business and stole various items, the owners
installed a security system. 274 Va. at 739. The court ordered the defendant to reimburse the
owners for installation of the security system and pay for eight months of service monitoring
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charges. Id. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the costs of installing and maintaining a
security system were too remote from the defendant’s conduct. The Court held that “the installation
of a security system, while related to [the defendant’s] burglary, was not caused by the offense as
required by Code §§ 19.2-303, -305(B), -305.1(A).” Id. at 741 (emphasis added).
Here, however, the court ordered appellant to pay restitution for a loss directly caused by the
offense. By unlawfully taking the victim’s Hyundai and its contents, appellant compromised the
victim’s ability to protect her vehicles from unwanted intrusion. She abandoned the Hyundai,
unlocked. Although the vehicle was recovered and returned to the victim, both sets of keys were
missing. As a result, the locks on both cars no longer functioned as before, to limit access. The
court did not order appellant to pay restitution for the cost of a new security system as in Howell
but, rather, for the cost of restoring a pre-existing security system rendered ineffective by
appellant’s criminal conduct. Accordingly, requiring appellant to pay for changing the locks is not
too remote or attenuated from the crime to establish an abuse of discretion. See Shelton, 66
Va. App. at 8.
One purpose of restitution is to make the victim whole by compensating him for losses
caused by the offense for which the defendant was convicted. See Ellis v. Commonwealth, 68
Va. App. 706, 714-16 (2018). See also McCullough v. Commonwealth, 38 Va. App. 811, 815
(2002) (noting that restitution “help[s] make the victim of a crime whole”), distinguished on other
grounds by Ellis, 68 Va. App. at 712-14. Payment of restitution restores a victim to his status before
the crime occurred. See Alger v. Commonwealth, 19 Va. App. 252, 257-59 (1994) (holding that
courts may properly consider victim impact statements when determining the appropriate amount of
restitution owed by a defendant). The new lock-and-key systems in both cars, including the
computer reprogramming in the Toyota, were not security upgrades. Instead, they made the victim
whole by returning her to the pre-crime status when she controlled access to her cars.
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When imposing sentence, the court “has a range of choice, and . . . its decision will not be
disturbed as long as it stays within that range and is not influenced by any mistake of law.” Sauder
v. Ferguson, 289 Va. 449, 459 (2015) (quoting Landrum v. Chippenham & Johnston-Willis Hosps.,
Inc., 282 Va. 346, 352 (2011)). “Only when reasonable jurists could not differ can we say an abuse
of discretion has occurred.” Du, 292 Va. at 564 (quoting Grattan v. Commonwealth, 278 Va. 602,
620 (2009)).

Outcome: We find that the court did not abuse its discretion in ordering appellant to pay restitution in the amount necessary to replace the locks and cylinders on the Hyundai and Toyota and to reprogram the Toyota’s computer. These costs were for losses directly caused by appellant’s criminal offense and did not go beyond making the victim whole. Accordingly, we affirm the order of restitution.

Affirmed.

Plaintiff's Experts:

Defendant's Experts:

Comments:



 
 
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