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National Crime Victim Law Institute

Crump v. Super. Ct. of L.A. Cty., 249 Cal. Rptr. 3d 611 (Cal. Ct. App. 2019)

February 06, 2020

Defendant—the Southern California Gas Company—pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of failure to immediately report the release of a hazardous material, in exchange for the dismissal of other counts relating to a months-long gas leak that caused damage to thousands of residents and businesses located near the site of the leak. More than 7,000 petitioners sought to set aside the plea agreement and obtain restitution as victims of defendant’s criminal conduct. The victims’ litigation with respect to their rights occurred before the trial court and before the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, and ultimately a petition for a writ of mandate was filed in the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals analyzed the victims’ rights and concluded, inter alia, that victims may not seek enforcement of their right to restitution by direct appeal from a criminal judgment or order but may, “in those rare instances where the trial court fails in its duty to order restitution from the convicted wrongdoer to the victims of the crime,” instead “do what petitioners have done in this case: seek a writ of mandate.” The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s determination that restitution was limited to losses that resulted from the three-day delay in reporting the leak and, despite agreeing that the evidence presented at the sentencing hearing was insufficient to demonstrate damages resulting from the delay itself, nevertheless ordered a re-hearing on restitution so the victims could provide information relating to any losses arising from the delayed reporting, as the scope of the previous hearing and the legal parameters of the previous proceeding relating to restitution had been unclear. The case was remanded with instructions to conduct a further hearing “to determine what, if any, damages were caused only by the three-day delay in reporting the leak to the proper authorities … .”