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Commonwealth v. Buckley

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Berkshire

September 8, 2016

COMMONWEALTH
v.
THOMAS E. BUCKLEY, THIRD.

          Heard: June 1, 2016.

         Complaint received and sworn to in the Pittsfield Division of the District Court Department on July 15, 2014.

         A proceeding to determine restitution was had before William A. Rota, J.

          Matthew J. Koes for the defendant.

          Megan L. Rose, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Katzmann, Meade, & Agnes, JJ.

          AGNES, J.

         Victims of crime have the right to request that the sentence in a criminal case include an order that the defendant pay restitution to make up for the economic loss they suffered as a result of the defendant's criminal conduct.[1]"[T]he scope of restitution is limited to 'loss or damage [that] is causally connected to the offense and bears a significant relationship to the offense.'"[2] Commonwealth v. Mclntyre, 436 Mass. 829, 835 (2002), quoting from Glaubius v. State, 688 So.2d 913, 915 (Fla. 1997) .

         In the present case, the defendant, Thomas E. Buckley, III, pleaded guilty to one count of larceny of a motor vehicle in violation of G. L. c. 266, § 28 (a.) . After a hearing, the judge ordered the defendant to pay restitution in the amount of $3, 000 for the loss of the victim's vehicle. On appeal, the defendant raises two issues relating to the restitution order: (1) whether intervening acts of negligence by third parties following the commission of the crime broke the causal chain and should relieve the defendant of the obligation to pay restitution; and (2) whether an agreement between the parties as to the approximate amount of economic loss is a sufficient basis upon which the judge may make an order of restitution. We answer the first question "no, " and the second question "yes." Accordingly, we affirm.

         Background.

         The essential facts are not in dispute. On July 14, 2014, the defendant was in the parking lot of a grocery store when he took possession of the victim's vehicle. The defendant claimed that someone had paid him to move a vehicle to an automobile wrecker, and he had mistakenly taken the defendant's vehicle. The defendant drove the vehicle first to an automobile wrecker and then to a liquor store parking lot, where it was eventually recovered. After he was seen on a surveillance video, the defendant was arrested. He immediately told the police where to find the vehicle.

         Although the vehicle was located within one or two days of its theft, due to some misinformation or a misunderstanding regarding the victim's contact information, the victim was not immediately notified that his vehicle had been recovered.[3]Because of the miscommunication, it was several months later, when the victim appeared for trial, that he discovered that the police had recovered his vehicle. In the interim, the victim had purchased a replacement vehicle.

         During the several months prior to trial, the victim's vehicle had been stored at an auto-body shop and had accumulated roughly $3, 036 in storage, mileage, and towing fees. Because the victim was unable to pay the fees, he ultimately transferred ownership of the vehicle to the shop.

         After the defendant pleaded guilty, he was sentenced to six months' probation and was ordered to pay various fines and restitution. At the restitution hearing, the judge inquired as to the "book value" of the stolen vehicle, a 1993 Honda Accord. The Commonwealth responded, "Your Honor, I believe we made an approximation last time that it was ... a little under . . . what the storage fees were, but we don't have a full book value."[4] Defense counsel stated, "there's no dispute as to that" and the issue was simply a "question of what [the defendant] would be capable of paying." The Commonwealth requested $3, 036 in restitution, the amount of the fees incurred.

         The defendant argued principally that the Commonwealth had not met its burden to prove that the defendant's conduct was causally related to the victim's economic loss. In particular, he argued that the intervening negligence on the part of the police department, not the defendant's crime, was the proximate cause of the victim's loss because the defendant ...


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