Restitution Awards Don't Require Juries in Petty Criminal Cases

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By William Peacock, Esq. on May 01, 2013 4:18 PM

Lawrence M. Stanfill El once worked with Kyle Carmin as fellow work-study interns with adjacent workspaces at the Department of Veteran Affairs in Portland, Oregon. It was a tranquil office, until one day, the two lads fell to fisticuffs. The outcome was poor for Mr. Carmin, as he was repeatedly struck by Mr. Stanfill El and required $3,468.03 in treatment at a local hospital.

Because the altercation occurred on federal property, the prosecution took place in federal, rather than Oregon, courts using federal law. Stanfill El was charged with assault within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, a petty offense with a maximum penalty of six months. Though he requested a jury, he was denied, and was convicted after a bench trial. He was also ordered to pay restitution for the hospital costs.

Stanfill El appealed his conviction, asserting his right to a jury under the Sixth and Seventh Amendments.

Sixth Amendment

We're all pretty familiar with the right to a jury by now, right? There is no right to a jury in petty criminal cases. When the sentence is six months or less, there is a strong presumption that the offense is petty. A massive fine or lengthy probation can overcome that presumption, in which case, the right to a jury attaches.

Stanfill El argueed that his restitution amounted to a fine. Alas, his argument is foreclosed by United States v. Ballek, where the Ninth Circuit held:

Restitution does not impose an additional obligation on the defendant; rather, it recognizes the debt he already owes the victim ... We therefore hold that the possibility that the district court will order restitution, in addition to a six-month maximum sentence, does not turn an otherwise petty offense into a serious one, no matter how large the sum involved.

Seventh Amendment

We know what you're thinking: Doesn't this amendment only apply to civil cases?

Stanfill El's argument was that an order of restitution is analogous to a civil cause of action for assault. However, the point of the Seventh Amendment was to preserve the right to juries in trials as they had been in 1791.

Even back then, summary (petty) offenses weren't tried by juries. And restitution was commonly awarded in petty larceny cases tried without a jury. The Seventh Circuit, addressing a similar argument, held, "[C]riminal restitution is not some newfangled effort to get around the Seventh Amendment but a traditional criminal remedy."

Because of the above reasons, the Ninth Circuit rejected Stanfill El's arguments for a jury trial and affirmed his conviction.

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