Minn. SC: Restitution appropriate even if unrequested

Jessica M. Karmasek Mar. 18, 2011, 11:00am


ST. PAUL, Minn. (Legal Newsline) - The Minnesota Supreme Court has upheld a lower court's ruling that a man must pay restitution even though his victim -- a popular mall clothing store -- did not request it.

At issue is whether a district court violated state statutes when it ordered Christopher Gaiovnik to pay restitution. The Court, in a 17-page opinion filed March 9, concluded that a district court's authority to order restitution "is not limited to those situations where a victim submits a request for restitution."

On Dec. 10, 2007, Gaiovnik and his accomplice, Christopher Landvik, robbed two employees of Hollister, a clothing store in the Rosedale Mall. The robbery occurred in the mall parking ramp as two employees were on their way to the bank to deposit the store's cash receipts.

Shortly after the robbery, the employees returned to the Hollister store. Their manager called 911 and police subsequently arrested Gaiovnik.

The State charged Gaiovnik with simple robbery, theft, and aiding and abetting both crimes.

The evidence at trial established that the amount stolen from Hollister during the robbery was at least $19,200. Gaiovnik did not dispute the amount stolen at trial, and he does not dispute on appeal that the amount stolen was at least $19,200.

The jury found Gaiovnik guilty of both simple robbery and theft. The district court convicted him of simple robbery and imposed sentence.

During the sentencing hearing, the parties and the court discussed restitution. Gaiovnik's counsel argued that the district court could not impose restitution because there was no restitution request from a victim.

The pre-sentence investigation report notes that Hollister and the two employees received victims' rights letters and information regarding restitution. But the record does not contain a restitution request from either Hollister or the individual victims.

The district court subsequently sentenced Gaiovnik to 48 months imprisonment and imposed a $300 fine. The court also ordered Gaiovnik to pay to Hollister the difference between $19,200 and any money paid by Gaiovnik's accomplice.

Gaiovnik appealed and argued that the evidence was not sufficient to sustain his conviction, he was prejudiced by evidentiary rulings, and the district court erred in awarding restitution.

The appeals court affirmed the lower court's order in an unpublished opinion. With respect to restitution, the appeals court held that Gaiovnik waived his right to challenge the restitution award because he did not challenge it within 30 days of sentencing, as required by state statutes.

However, the appeals court did not address Gaiovnik's argument that the district court lacked authority to order restitution in the absence of a victim's request.

The state's high court granted Gaiovnik's petition for review.

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, who authored the Court's opinion, said because the procedures set forth in state law do not apply when a defendant challenges a district court's legal authority to award restitution in the absence of a request from the victim, Gaiovnik did not waive his right to challenge the court's restitution order on appeal by failing to request a hearing within 30 days of sentencing.

However, because the district court's authority to order restitution is not limited to those situations where a victim submits a request for restitution, the court did not err when it ordered appellant to pay restitution when no victim requested restitution, the Court said.

The Court points to a state statute that requires courts to request information from victims because "victims are in the best position to decide if they have experienced any economic loss that resulted from the crime and that has not been brought to the court's attention."

"But this does not mean, as Gaiovnik asserts, that district courts rarely have enough information to make factual determinations on restitution when victims do not provide the court with information," the Court wrote. "Instead, as this case indicates, the record itself can contain a sufficient amount of information to provide a factual basis for an award of restitution."

Both Gaiovnik and the district court were aware of Hollister's loss, and Gaiovnik never contested the amount of the loss, the Court noted.

"The uncontested record provides the factual basis for the award, and Gaiovnik does not argue otherwise," it wrote.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

More News