TWIN FALLS • The Idaho Supreme Court has reversed a restitution ruling that awarded David Webster’s family more than a half-million dollars following his death.
Webster was killed on June 25, 2009, after being struck by a truck driven by Daniel Straub while on his bicycle. Straub eventually pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter in Twin Falls County 5th District Court.
Straub was sentenced to three to eight years in prison, fined and agreed to pay restitution to Webster’s immediate family.
During a restitution hearing in Twin Falls, District Judge Randy Stoker determined that Straub owed $554,506.67 to Webster’s family.
About $530,000 of that consisted of future medical insurance premiums and future wages that Webster would have earned in the five years after his death. An additional nearly $24,000 covered funeral, counseling and medical insurance premiums along with legal expenses.
By accepting the plea deal, Straub waived his right to appeal any issues regarding his conviction, plea or sentencing, “and any rulings made by the court,” according to the plea agreement.
Stoker ruled that Straub gave up his right to appeal the restitution when he signed the guilty plea.
But the Supreme Court disagreed and sided with Straub, concluding that the past tense of the word “made”meant the agreement only applied to rulings issued at the time it was reached.
Therefore, the court decided, Straub has the ability to appeal the restitution order.
The Supreme Court then decided that the $530,000 awarded for future insurance premiums and lost wages should not have been included in the restitution order.
At the district level, Stoker ruled that Webster’s wife, Charlene Webster, should receive her share of his anticipated income over the next five years. But Stoker also noted that no Idaho courts had interpreted the future lost wages aspect of the law at that point.
The Supreme Court’s decision cites Idaho law stating that restitution is “economic loss which the victim actually suffers.” The court also notes the definition of “actually” is “existing in fact or reality,” in contrast with something that is “potential and possible.”
Future wages, the court states, are just speculative and not an actual economic loss, which means they shouldn’t be included in restitution orders.
“The restitution statute was never meant to be a substitute for a civil action…” the court states. “If we allow all foreseeable damages to be clothed in criminal restitution, we will draw to a standstill an already overburdened criminal court process.”
Wednesday, Charlene Webster told the Times-News she hadn’t heard about the court’s decision yet and did not want to comment.
Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs said his office does not usually include restitution requests that include future possible wages, but lets victims in the cases he prosecutes submit requests of their own. The restitution request in this case was from the Webster family.
“The victims have the right to address the judge. They were understandably distraught and injured,” he said. “During their discussion of what they lost, the judge decided he should give the restitution.”
In general, Loebs said his office was already following what the Idaho Supreme Court decided in this case.