Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Penny for the Governor

State v. Quist, 2011 VT 5

It’s tax time again!  Just in case you were planning to “accidentally” forget to file or pay your taxes, you should know that the one-stop-shopping-venue also known as the Criminal Division just added another item to its restitution menu: back taxes.  Yes!—says SCOV—the Vermont Department of Taxes (or any other State of Vermont “Department” for that matter) can be considered a “victim” for purposes of awarding restitution.  This means that the Defendant here, who was convicted of twelve charges of failure to pay taxes or file a tax return, is on the hook for $15,234.36 in back taxes payable as restitution to the Department. 

Here’s the play-by-play: a “victim” is defined as a “person who sustains . . . injury . . . as a direct result of the commission or attempted commission of a crime.”  The restitution statute does not define “person.” However, other statutory definitions of “person” do include the State of Vermont.  And so, while government entities are expressly precluded from receiving advances from the restitution unit, according to SCOV, this provision indicates that the Legislature contemplated that government entities are entitled to restitution, just not restitution advances.  SCOV points out that the legislative history also gives a nod to the gov’na’.  (Justice Skoglund acknowledges that she wasn’t aware of the legislative history when she penned a previous concurrence reaching a different result.) And so, restitution for me, restitution for you, and restitution for the government, too.  You’re not a victim anymore, Vermont Department of Taxes, you’re a survivor.

This case is a close companion to another recent decision holding that the State can seek restitution at sentencing regardless of whether the defendant agrees to it as part of a plea deal. 

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