Michigan Supreme Court Holds Criminal Restitution Includes Victims' Travel Expenses

On May 29th, 2014, the Michigan Supreme Court held in a criminal case that victims' travel expenses incurred as a direct result of a defendant's criminal acts are recoverable under the Michigan Crime Victims Rights' Act and the Michigan restitution statute.

In People v Garrison, Docket No. 146626, the Michigan Supreme Court addressed an appeal from the Michigan Court of Appeals regarding the trial court's imposition of an Order of Restitution requiring defendant to pay for his victims' travel expenses to a restitution hearing and to recover their stolen property.

From the opinion's syllabus:

Chad J. Garrison pleaded guilty in the Cheboygan Circuit Court to one count of larceny of property valued at $1,000 or more but less than $20,000, MCL 750.356(1) and (3)(a), as a second-offense habitual offender. While the case was pending, the three victims of defendant’s theft had traveled back and forth from their primary residences to secure their stolen property and attend a restitution hearing. At the hearing, the victims testified that they had incurred travel expenses related to those trips in the cumulative amount of $1,125. Over defense counsel’s objection, the court, Scott L. Pavlich, J., included $977 of this amount in its restitution order. Defendant appealed. The Court of Appeals, FITZGERALD, P.J., and BOONSTRA, J. (METER, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part), affirmed in part but reversed with respect to that issue in an unpublished opinion per curiam, issued December 20, 2012 (Docket No. 307102), concluding that the sentencing court had abused its discretion because neither the Crime Victim’s Rights Act (CVRA), MCL 780.751 et seq., nor the general restitution statute, MCL 769.1a, authorizes courts to include victims’ travel expenses in a restitution award. The Court of Appeals remanded for a redetermination of restitution, and the prosecution sought leave to appeal. The Supreme Court ordered and heard oral argument on whether to grant the application or take other peremptory action. 493 Mich 1015 (2013). 

In an opinion by Justice VIVIANO, joined by Chief Justice YOUNG and Justices CAVANAGH, KELLY, and ZAHRA, the Supreme Court held

The Court of Appeals erred by reversing in part and remanding this case for a redetermination of restitution. The CVRA and MCL 769.1a authorize courts to order a defendant to pay restitution for the reasonable travel expenses that victims incur while securing their stolen property and attending restitution hearings. MCL 780.766(1) (part of the CVRA provision that applies to felony convictions) and MCL 769.1a(1)(b) define “victim” as an individual who suffers direct or threatened physical, financial, or emotional harm as a result of the commission of a crime. MCL 780.766(2) and MCL 769.1a(2) provide that sentencing courts must order a defendant convicted of a crime to make full restitution to any victim of the defendant’s course of conduct that gives rise to the conviction or to the victim’s estate.

The statutory language imposes a duty on sentencing courts to order defendants to pay restitution that is maximal and complete. While other subsections of the statutes give sentencing courts specific instructions regarding what must be included in a restitution order for certain losses, such as when a crime results in damage to or loss or destruction of property, nothing in those statutes indicates that courts may only award restitution for the types of losses described in those subsections. They do not contain an exhaustive list of all types of restitution available under Michigan law for victims who suffer particular losses.

For instance, not all crime victims suffer property damage, personal injury, or death, but many of those otherwise unharmed victims must travel to reclaim property, identify perpetrators, or participate in the investigatory process in the aftermath of a crime. These travels impose a real financial burden on victims in the form of transportation expenses. Holding that the statutes exclude those losses would not give effect to the connection that the Legislature made between the financial harm a person suffers and that person’s status as a victim.

While another statute in the CVRA, MCL 780.766b, expressly authorizes courts to order defendants convicted of human-trafficking offenses to pay restitution for transportation costs incurred by victims of those crimes, MCL 780.766b did not expand the restitution authority of sentencing courts; rather, the Legislature was ensuring that sentencing courts did not overlook the types of losses that were likely to be common in the human- trafficking context.

The victims’ immediate need in this case to recover their property, inventory their losses, and explain their losses in court was a natural consequence of defendant’s criminal activity. Hence, their travel expenses were a direct result of defendant’s criminal course of conduct, and the sentencing court’s decision to include those expenses in its restitution order was in keeping with the court’s statutory duty to order defendant to pay full restitution. 

Reversed with respect to restitution of travel expenses and remanded to the sentencing court for reinstatement of the original restitution order.