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Meth Strikes Again - Must Man Pay $160,000 in Restitution?

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A man, lost in a California forest for several days, may be forced to pay for the costs of the rescue efforts after being charged with drug possession.  The man and a female companion were found after a large scale search and rescue effort, an effort that cost an estimated $160,000.00.  After being rescued, the man was charged with misdemeanor possession of methamphetamine after the drugs  were found in the man's car which parked at the national forest.  I suspect that the car was searched as part of the rescue effort.  Some people believe that the man probably became lost because he used the meth, therefore he should be responsible for repaying the rescue costs. 

Criminal Charges and Payment of Restitution

If the man were charged with misdemeanor Possession of a Controlled Substance in Pennsylvania, the man would face up to 1 year in jail, $5,000.00, and a suspension of Pennsylvania driving privileges. If the man has either no prior criminal record or a limited one, then he probably would avoid spending any time in jail and be sentenced to probation.

Aside from imposing a sentence of probation and fines, a judge is permitted to order that a criminal defendant pay restitution as part of the sentence. A failure to pay restitution would be a violation of the judge's sentencing order and thereby lead to a sentence revocation. At a revocation, many judges hold the person in contempt for violating the sentencing order and order that the person be jailed unless a considerable payment is made towards the amount owed.

What is "Restitution"?

Restitution generally refers to out-of-pocket expenses, meaning losses incurred by the victim. For example, in an assault case, a person that is convicted is often ordered to pay restitution to the victim for medical costs and lost wages for missed work, but the victim cannot receive restitution payments for pain and suffering. In order to recover for pain and suffering, the victim would need to file a civil lawsuit against the defendant. This is where the victim would hire a civil lawyer, the ones that generally advertise on television that there is "no fee unless we get money for you."

Restitution in This Case?

I have my doubts that the government can recover the costs of the search for the man in this case. I do not believe that the government will be able to sufficiently prove that the person was under the influence of meth and said impairment caused the man and woman to become lost. While the prosecution may be able to prove "constructive possession" of the drugs as the meth was found in the man's car, the prosecution does not have evidence that the man actually used the meth shortly before hiking in the woods. I can understand that the government would like to recoup over $160,000.00 that was spent in the recovery effort and thereby remove this expense from the burden placed on taxpayers, but the government also needs proof, and I simply do not see it here. Many people get lost in the woods, both sober and intoxicated people.

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