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The People v. Paul Dean Runyan

July 16, 2012


County: Los Angeles Judge: Marcelita Haynes Ct.App. 2/8 B218863 Super. Ct. No. BA322080

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baxter, J.

Los Angeles County

Defendant, driving while intoxicated, killed another driver instantly in a freeway collision. The accident victim left no surviving family, dependents, or heirs. Defendant was convicted and sentenced to prison. In addition, pursuant to the statute requiring that persons convicted of felonies pay restitution to the crimes' victims for their resulting economic loss, he was also ordered to pay substantial restitutionary amounts to the decedent's estate. The award represented death-related loss in value of the decedent's business and property, and probate, estate administration, and funeral expenses. The Court of Appeal affirmed the award.

We granted review to decide if, when, and to whom one convicted of a felony is required by the Constitution and statutes to pay restitution to the estate or personal representative of a victim of the crime who has died. As an initial matter, we agree with defendant that, for purposes of the mandatory restitution provisions, the estate is not itself a "direct victim" of a crime that caused the decedent's death. Thus, mandatory restitution is not payable to the estate for economic loss the estate itself has sustained as a result of the death. But even if the estate is not a "direct victim," the decedent's personal representative (i.e., the executor or administrator of the decedent's estate) is entitled to collect mandatory restitution, on the decedent's behalf, for economic loss the decedent personally incurred before death as an actual victim of the defendant's criminal conduct. Nothing in the mandatory restitution statute suggests otherwise. And recent amendments to the "Victims' Bill of Rights," as set forth in article I, section 28 of the California Constitution, make clear that a decedent's personal representative, acting in that capacity, can receive restitution to which the decedent was entitled for losses he or she personally sustained prior to death as a victim of the defendant's crimes.

However, we further determine that, after the actual victim has died, he or she does not incur, or continue to incur, personal economic loss subject to mandatory restitution. Thus, post-death diminution in the value of the decedent's property, and the expenses of administering the decedent's estate, are not recoverable by the decedent's representative, on the decedent's behalf, as losses the decedent personally incurred because of the defendant's crime. Our determination is consistent with well-established principles of the law of civil damages, and we discern no purpose of the statutory or constitutional provisions governing mandatory restitution to depart fundamentally from these principles.

No portion of the mandatory restitution award upheld by the Court of Appeal in this case represents an economic loss incurred either by (1) the decedent personally, prior to his death, as a result of the defendant's crime, or (2) the decedent's estate itself as a "direct victim" of a crime committed by the defendant. Accordingly, there is no valid basis for any of the mandatory restitution amounts awarded to the estate. We will therefore reverse the Court of Appeal's judgment in its entirety.


After a jury trial, defendant Paul Dean Runyan was acquitted of murder, but was convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated (Pen. Code, § 191.5, subd. (a)),*fn1 causing injury while driving under the influence of a drug or alcohol (Veh. Code, § 23153, subd. (a)), and causing injury while driving with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent or greater (id., subd. (b)). The evidence indicated that on April 6, 2007, defendant, while intoxicated, drove the wrong way on a freeway for more than three miles before colliding head-on with a vehicle driven by Donald Benge. Benge had been traveling directly behind a California Highway Patrol vehicle, which swerved to avoid defendant's car. Benge was pronounced dead at the scene. He left no family, dependents, or heirs.

Defendant was sentenced to six years in state prison. Thereafter, a restitution hearing took place on August 5, 2009. Pursuant to the mandatory restitution statute, section 1202.4, the court found that "the economic loss suffered as a result of the defendant's criminal actions" totaled $446,486, and it ordered defendant to pay restitution in this amount to Benge's estate. The award was allocated as follows: $229,721 in net loss to Benge's rare coin collection; $9,764 for net loss in value of Benge's fencing equipment; $17,211 for net loss in value of the contents of Benge's residence; $148,645 in probate costs; $36,000 and $5,100, respectively, as compensation or reimbursement to two individuals for their assistance to the estate; and $45 for funeral expenses.*fn2

The trial court rejected defendant's contention that, in light of Benge's death, there was no "victim" statutorily entitled to restitution. In the court's view, the Legislature cannot have intended a crime victim's death to absolve the defendant of restitutionary liability. Moreover, the court noted that the Constitution now defines a "victim" for restitutionary purposes to include the lawful representative of a deceased crime victim.

Defendant appealed the restitution order. He argued, as below, that Benge's estate may only obtain mandatory restitution under section 1202.4 if it is a "direct victim" of defendant's crime, that the estate is not such a "direct victim," and that, because Benge died without family, heirs, or dependents, there is no other identifiable "victim" entitled to restitution.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the order, reasoning that Benge's estate must be deemed a "direct victim," because it only exists as a result of defendant's criminal acts. Noting that section 1202.4 defines "victim[s]" entitled to restitution to include members of the actual victim's immediate family, the Court of Appeal deemed this a clear indication that the Legislature did not intend a defendant's restitutionary obligation to terminate with the victim's death. The Court of Appeal cited People v. Slattery (2008) 167 Cal.App.4th 1091 (Slattery) for the principle that restitution is payable to the estate of a deceased victim. Finally, the Court of Appeal stressed that defendant would have been liable for restitution had he severely injured Benge, rather than killing him. The Legislature, the Court of Appeal insisted, cannot have intended to provide greater restitutionary protection to a victim who lived than to one who died.

We granted review. For the reasons we explain below, we conclude that the Court of Appeal's judgment must be reversed.


Section 1202.4 declares "the intent of the Legislature that a victim of crime who incurs any economic loss as a result of the commission of a crime shall receive restitution directly from any defendant convicted of that crime." (Id., subd. (a)(1).) Accordingly, with specified exceptions, "in every case in which a victim has suffered economic loss as a result of the defendant's conduct, the court shall require that the defendant make restitution to the victim or victims . . . ." (Id., subd. (f).) Absent extraordinary and compelling reasons (ibid.), restitution "shall be of a dollar amount that is sufficient to fully reimburse the victim or victims for every determined economic loss incurred as the result of the defendant's criminal conduct" (id., subd. (f)(3)), and must include, but is not limited to, such costs as the value of stolen or damaged property, as determined by repair or replacement value (id., subd. (f)(3)(A)), medical expenses (id., subd. (f)(3)(B)), and "[w]ages or profits lost due to injury incurred by the victim" (id., subd. (f)(3)(D)).

For purposes of section 1202.4, a "victim" is defined to include, among others, the actual victim's immediate surviving family (id., subd. (k)(1)), as well as specified relatives of the actual victim, and present and certain former members of the victim's household, who sustained economic loss as a result of the crime (id., subd. (k)(3)(A)-(D)). A "victim" also includes "[a]ny corporation, business trust, estate, trust, partnership, association, joint venture, government, governmental subdivision, agency, or instrumentality, or any other legal or commercial entity when that entity is a direct victim of a crime." (Id., subd. (k)(2), italics added.)

The case law has ascribed a precise meaning to the phrase "direct victim," as that phrase has appeared in several restitution statutes. Thus, it is established that a statute "permitting restitution to entities that are 'direct' victims of crime [limits] restitution to 'entities against which the [defendant's] crimes had been committed' -- that is, entities that are the 'immediate objects of the [defendant's] offenses.' [Citation.]" (People v. Martinez (2005) 36 Cal.4th 384, 393 (Martinez), quoting People v. Birkett (1999) 21 Cal.4th 226, 232-233 (Birkett) [construing former § 1203.04].)

In Martinez, we held that the Department of Toxic Substance Control was not the "immediate object" of the defendant's offense in that case --attempted manufacture of methamphetamine, a controlled substance -- (Health & Saf. Code, ยง 11379.6, subd. (a)) -- and thus was not a "direct" victim entitled to restitution under section 1202.4 for its mandatory costs of cleaning up the defendant's illegal drug laboratory. (Martinez, supra, 36 Cal.4th 384, 393-394.) And in Birkett, we concluded that automobile insurers were not entities against which the defendant's vehicle theft and "chop shop" crimes were committed, and thus were not "direct" victims entitled to ...

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