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State v. Hill

July 22, 1998

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
WALTER F. HILL, A/K/A WILLIAM DOUSE, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



Chief Justice Poritz and Justices Handler, Pollock, O'hern, Garibaldi, Stein, and Coleman join in this opinion.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam

Argued April 27, 1998

On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

The question in this appeal is whether N.J.S.A. 2C:43-3, permits restitution to third parties who have reimbursed a crime victim for losses suffered as a result of criminal conduct. Such third parties, who may be viewed as "indirect victims of crime," are usually collateral sources of funds covering the losses. Such collateral sources include insurance companies, government entities, employers, or health organizations that have provided reimbursement or assistance to crime victims. A victim would ordinarily be entitled to restitution for the injuries or losses sustained but for the reimbursement from the third party and the Code's preclusion against double recovery, N.J.S.A. 2C:44- 2f.

I.

Defendant, Walter Hill, shot Asbury Park police officer Sean Ryan in the chest. Only the fortunate circumstance that the officer was wearing a bullet-resistant vest saved the officer's life. A jury convicted defendant of attempted murder. In addition to his sentence of twenty years, with a ten-year Graves Act parole disqualifier, the trial court ordered defendant to pay $3,195 in restitution to the City of Asbury Park for the benefits paid to the injured police officer as a result of the injuries sustained from defendant's crime. Those benefits covered the officer's medical bills and his loss of pay while on disability.

On appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed defendant's conviction but determined, based upon its reading of the definition of "victim" in N.J.S.A. 2C:43-3e, that the City of Asbury Park was not a victim and therefore was not entitled to restitution. The Appellate Division noted that N.J.S.A. 2C:43-3e defined "victim" as "a person who suffers a personal, physical or psychological injury . . . as a result of a crime committed against that person . . . ." Based upon its reading of N.J.S.A. 2C:43-3e, the Appellate Division found that "[t]he City of Asbury Park was not a `victim' because it was not `that person' against whom the crime was committed." We granted certification, 152 N.J. 11 (1997), to review the vacation of the restitution award.

II.

The State contends that the reasoning of the Appellate Division is flawed in that it is premised upon an edited version of the definition of "victim." The complete definition of victim in N.J.S.A. 2C:43-3e contains language that was omitted from the definition relied upon by the Appellate Division. N.J.S.A. 2C:43-3e states:

The term "victim" shall mean a person who suffers a personal physical or psychological injury or death or incurs loss of or injury to personal or real property as a result of a crime committed against that person, or in the case of a homicide, the nearest relative of the victim.

[Emphasis added.]

The State argues that the additional phrase "or incurs loss of or injury to personal or real property as a result of a crime committed against that person" should be read to include as victims persons who suffer economic loss or injury as a result of the offense committed against another person. Under that interpretation, the City of Asbury Park is a victim because it incurred a pecuniary loss as a result of defendant's attempt to murder Officer Ryan.

The State argues that the statutory definition is broad enough to go beyond direct or primary victims to include indirect or secondary victims who incur "loss of or injury to personal or real property as a result of a crime committed against" the direct victim. The third party stands in the place of the victim, whose loss or injury has been absorbed by, or transferred to, the third party. We are not so certain that a grammarian would read the phrase "as a result of a crime committed against that person" to provide a definition of victim only in the case of property losses. We believe that a fair reading of the sentence structure is that the phrase "that person" modifies the word "person," which appears earlier in the definition of "victim," whether that person suffers personal injury or loss of property. In either case, it is the crime against that person that triggers restitution under the Act. *fn1

The State relies on cases from other jurisdictions in support of its view. A similar factual and legal scenario was presented in People v. Cruz, 615 N.E.2d 1017 (N.Y. 1993). In that case the New York Court of Appeals upheld a restitution award to Nassau County for costs resulting from injuries caused by the defendant to a police officer. In the Cruz case, an off-duty detective was injured when he attempted to arrest the defendant for burglary. Id. at 1017. The Court found that the County's losses were not voluntarily incurred expenses of law enforcement, e.g., drug-buy money, but rather stemmed from a legal obligation "directly and causally related to the crime," the obligation to pay an injured employee sick leave. Ibid. The Court of Appeals therefore held that restitution was appropriate under these circumstances. Ibid. The State cites other courts that have determined that third parties, such as insurance companies, government agencies, and medical groups, are indirect or secondary victims who can recover restitution under their state statutes. See Roe v. State, 917 P.2d 959, 960 (Nev. 1996) (considering state agency victim under restitution statute if harm or loss suffered was unexpected and occurred without voluntary participation of agency suffering harm or loss, and money expended for direct victims); People v. McDaniel, 631 N.Y.S. 2d 957 (N.Y. App. Div. 1995), app. denied 667 N.E.2d 347 (N.Y. 1996) ...


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