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State v. Bruce

Supreme Court of North Dakota

February 22, 2018

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Aaron Bruce, Defendant and Appellant

         Appeal from the District Court of Ward County, North Central Judicial District, the Honorable Todd L. Cresap, Judge. AFFIRMED.

          Marie A. Miller, Assistant State's Attorney, Minot, N.D., for plaintiff and appellee.

          Russell J. Myhre, Valley City, N.D., for defendant and appellant.

          OPINION

          McEvers, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Aaron Bruce appeals from a district court's amended criminal judgment awarding restitution. We conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion by amending the criminal judgment awarding restitution in the amount of $7, 157.20. We affirm.

         I

         [¶ 2] In December 2015, the State charged Bruce with unlawful manufacturing, delivering, or possession with intent to deliver heroin; manslaughter; tampering in a criminal investigation; ingestion of a controlled substance; and theft of property. The charges arose from an incident in July 2015. In March 2017, pursuant to an agreement, the State amended the manslaughter charge to negligent homicide, and dismissed three of the charges. Bruce pled guilty to negligent homicide and manufacturing, delivering, or possession with intent to deliver heroin. The district court sentenced Bruce the same day. The court left restitution open for 90 days.

         [¶ 3] On March 17, 2017, the State moved the district court for restitution. In May 2017, the court held a restitution hearing. The State requested $6, 165 for funeral expenses for Aidan Vanderhoef, the victim of the negligent homicide charge, $500 for a cell phone that was allegedly stolen from Vanderhoef, and $492.20 for his father's transportation costs to and from the court proceedings. The court ordered Bruce to pay restitution in the amount of $7, 157.20. Bruce appeals from the amended criminal judgment ordering him to pay restitution.

         II

         [¶ 4] Bruce argues the district court abused its discretion in ordering restitution for funeral expenses, a cell phone, and transportation costs to and from the court proceedings for Vanderhoef's father. Bruce also argues the district court abused its discretion when ordering restitution without considering his ability to pay.

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. "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."

State v. Carson, 2017 ND 196, ¶ 5, 900 N.W.2d 41 (citation omitted).

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." 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."

Carson, at ¶ 6 (citations omitted). "The court shall fix the amount of restitution or reparation, which may not exceed an amount the defendant can or will be able to pay." N.D.C.C. § 12.1-32-08(1). "The district court may order restitution as part of a criminal defendant's sentence after a hearing on the matter." Sta ...


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