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State v. Carson

Supreme Court of North Dakota

July 31, 2017

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
Mearlyse Fallon Carson, Defendant and Appellant

         Appeal from the District Court of Williams County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable Paul W. Jacobson, Judge.

          Nathan K. Madden, Assistant State's Attorney, Williston, N.D., for plaintiff and appellee; submitted on brief.

          Misty L. Nehring, Williston, N.D., for defendant and appellant; submitted on brief.

          Tufte, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Mearlyse Carson appeals a restitution order entered following her guilty plea and conviction for possession of stolen property. The district court ordered her to pay restitution in the amount of $8, 072.84, which included restitution for other items stolen or damaged during a burglary for which she was not convicted. We reverse and remand.


         [¶ 2] Carson was arrested while in possession of several items stolen during a residential burglary two days before her arrest. The items stolen during the burglary included four rifles, ammunition, tools, two vehicles, and an enclosed trailer. The vehicles and trailer were found the next day. The trailer suffered extensive damage. Law enforcement officers found Carson in possession of a reportedly-stolen truck that she alleged she had borrowed from her ex-boyfriend. At the time, she was transferring rifles, ammunition, and tools from the truck to another vehicle. Law enforcement searched the second vehicle and found the four rifles, ammunition, and tools that had been stolen during the burglary. The items found in Carson's possession were returned to the victim and no claim of restitution was made related to those items or their condition. Several other stolen items were never recovered.

         [¶ 3] The State charged Carson with theft of property, alleging an unauthorized taking of property under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-23-02(1) or possession of stolen property under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-23-02(3). The items alleged in the six counts were four rifles, ammunition, and "DeWalt tools, a mag lit [sic], and bolt cutter(s)." She pled guilty to each of the six counts. The factual basis provided in support of her guilty plea included Carson's acknowledgment that she possessed the charged items and that they had been taken from the burglary victim's residence. Carson did not admit to participation in the burglary or taking the property. The State sought restitution, and after an evidentiary hearing, the district court ordered Carson to pay restitution in the amount of $8, 072.84 for damages resulting from the burglary, including the cost to replace other stolen items not recovered and repair damage to the trailer. The district court's order concluded "the record and the inferences that may be drawn from it" established a causal relationship between Carson's criminal conduct and the following damages:

Items in Denali, Trailer, or Ford Explorer, or his home/driveway (jack stands, floor jack, lawn chair with canopy, stun gun, garage door remotes, tool kit, brake controller, Denali registration and owner's manual, nebulizer pump and accessories, tie down straps, T-wrench and flat bar, back-up camera kit, trailer hitch lock, Savage bolt action rifle w/scope, 4 padlocks)

$1, 232.29

Fees paid to retrieve Denali from City impound


Keys and remotes for Denali


Key and remote for 2002 Ford Explorer


Re-key household locks


Lawn chairs left on the scene


Damage to trailer

$5, 900.00

         [¶ 4] Carson appeals, asserting she should not have been required to pay restitution resulting from the burglary when she had been convicted only of possessing stolen property.


         [¶ 5] When reviewing a restitution order, we look to whether the district court acted "within the limits set by statute, " which is a standard similar to our abuse of discretion standard. State v. Gill, 2004 ND 137, ¶ 5, 681 N.W.2d 832. "A district court abuses its discretion if it acts in an arbitrary, unreasonable, or unconscionable manner, if its decision is not the product of a rational mental process leading to a reasoned determination, or if it misinterprets or misapplies the law." Id.

         [¶ 6] In analyzing whether to order restitution, N.D.C.C. § 12.1-32-08(1)(a) requires the district court to consider the "reasonable damages sustained by the victim." These damages "are limited to those directly related to the criminal offense and expenses actually incurred as a direct result of the defendant's criminal action." Id. This Court has interpreted "directly related" and "direct result" in this section as requiring "an immediate and intimate causal connection between the criminal conduct and the damages or expenses for which restitution is ordered." State v. Pippin, 496 N.W.2d 50, 52 - 53 (N.D. 1993).

         [¶ 7] In Pippin, the State charged Joan Pippin with possession of stolen property and charged her former husband with multiple counts of burglary. Id. at 51. Both pled guilty, and the district court ordered each of them to pay restitution for the damages incurred by the burglary victims. Id. at 52. Pippin appealed, arguing the victims' damages were not "directly related" to her crime of possession of stolen property and "their expenses were not a 'direct result' of her commission of that crime." Id. This Court agreed, stating, "In pleading guilty, Joan admitted only that she possessed certain items of property... and no other property. There is ...

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