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National Crime Victim Law Institute

State v. Brown, — P.3d —, No. 20130275, 2014 WL 5420915 (Utah Oct. 24, 2014).

November 21, 2014

The victim in this case was represented by the Utah Crime Victims Legal Clinic.  Paul G. Cassell, Ronald N. Boyce Presidential Professor of Criminal Law, College Of Law, University of Utah, generously donated his time to act as local counsel for NCVLI in the filing of an amicus brief with the Utah Supreme Court in support of the victims’ rights.

State v. Brown, — P.3d —, No. 20130275, 2014 WL 5420915 (Utah Oct. 24, 2014).

Following the entry of defendant’s guilty plea to unlawful sexual activity, the child-victim of defendant’s criminal conduct filed a notice of her claim for restitution; the trial court then rejected the child-victim’s filing, finding that she was not a proper party and lacked standing to file pleadings.  The trial court also denied a parallel request for restitution that was filed by the state that requested restitution for travel expenses and lost wages incurred by the child-victim and her mother in connection with attending several proceedings relating to the criminal charges brought against defendant.  The child-victim appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in finding that she lacked standing to seek restitution and in denying her claim for restitution.  On review, the Utah Supreme Court observed that crime victims in Utah are constitutionally guaranteed, inter alia, the right to be heard at important criminal justice hearings, which includes restitution proceedings.  The court held, however, that the “right to be heard” is “not the same as a right to file a pleading in a criminal case,” as pleadings “are filed only by parties.”  Acknowledging that the “traditional parties” to a criminal proceeding are the prosecution and the defense, the court observed that crime victims are not that type of party, “entitled to participate at all stages of the proceedings or for all purposes.”  The court instead held that “a victim may qualify as a limited-purpose party” in connection with a criminal proceeding, and held that this limited-purpose party standing extends to victims’ right to file pleadings in connection with their right to restitution.  Victims’ status as a “limited-purpose party” confirms the “formal role for crime victims” contemplated by Utah law—a “role in which they have standing to file and pursue a claim for restitution and are not required to await and benefit from the filings of the prosecution.”  Consequently, the court held that the trial court erred in striking the child-victim’s request for restitution.  The court further held, however, that the error was harmless, as Utah’s restitution provisions are not broad enough to allow for restitution for lost wages and travel expenses.  The court explained that Utah’s restitution provision limits restitution to pecuniary damages that a person could recover in a civil action, and although no prior Utah authority exists addressing this question, the Utah Supreme Court held that travel expenses and lost wages “would not be compensable pecuniary damages” under Utah law.  Because the expenses sought by the victim in this case were held not recoverable in restitution under Utah law, the court found the trial court’s error in striking the crime victim’s restitution pleading to be harmless.