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National Crime Victim Law Institute

State v. Jent, — P.3d —, No. DA 12–0399, 2013 WL 1427280 (Mont. Apr. 9, 2013).

April 25, 2013

Defendant pleaded guilty to the aggravated assault of his wife, which resulted in a fracture of the victim’s orbital wall of her right eye socket.  As part of his sentence, the trial court ordered defendant to pay over $44,000 in restitution, including over $19,000 in restitution for medical expenses arising from the victim’s post-assault suicide attempt.  Defendant appealed the restitution order to the extent that it required him to pay restitution for the victim’s suicide-attempt related expenses.  First, defendant argued that his wife cannot be considered a “victim” of his offense for restitution purposes with respect to the suicide-attempt related expenses because these expenses were not incurred “as a result of” the commission of his crime.  The Montana Supreme Court rejected this argument and held that the trial court did not err in awarding restitution for these expenses.  Citing prior case law, the court explained that restitution is not limited to losses arising “directly” from the criminal conduct.  The court found instead that the relevant inquiry is whether there is a causal relationship between defendant’s conduct and the victim’s losses, and held that the record supports the trial court’s determination that such a causal connection exists in this case:  “[The victim’s] suicide attempt is causally related to [defendant’s] action of fracturing her right orbital socket. There is a definite connection between the underlying aggravated assault and [the victim’s] mental health. This is reflected not only in the parties’ violent and tumultuous marital relationship, which is a factor bearing on the existence of a causal connection in this case, but also in [the victim’s] testimony that her suicide attempt was ‘directly related’ to [defendant’s] assault. [Defendant’s] conduct created a situation which resulted in medical expenses arising from the compromised mental health of his victim. Accordingly, there is a causal connection between [defendant’s] offense and the restitution requirement for [the victim’s] suicide attempt.”  Second, defendant argued that there is insufficient evidence to support a finding that his conduct was the proximate cause of the victim’s suicide attempt.  Without addressing whether state law imposes a “proximate cause” requirement, the court found that it was not persuaded by defendant’s assertion that the victim’s action was “too far removed” from defendant’s criminal conduct to cut off restitution liability.  Lastly, defendant argued that there is insufficient evidence to support the amount of the restitution award.  The court rejected this argument as well, noting that defendant had failed to present any evidence to counter the accuracy of the amount of medical expenses at issue.  For these reasons, the court affirmed the restitution order.