Court: Burglar Not Liable for Cost of Alarm System

A Roanoke judge went too far when he ordered a burglar to pay for a security system his victims installed following the break-in, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled Friday.

As part of Lloyd D. Howell's sentence for burglarizing the officesof Thomas Tax Service, Circuit Judge Charlie Dorsey required him to pay $1,040 for an alarm system at the Melrose Avenue business.

But court-ordered restitution can only cover actual losses or damages caused by the defendant, the Supreme Court noted.

"Costs that result only indirectly from the offense, that are a step removed from the defendant's conduct, are too remote and are inappropriate for a restitution payment," the court's opinion stated.

Prosecutors argued that Lourice and Patrick Thomas felt forced to install a security system following the 2004 burglary of their business. While that decision was related to the crime, the court found, itwas not directly caused by it.

"The attenuation is too great; therefore, we hold that the trial court abused his discretion," Justice Donald Lemons wrote in the unanimous opinion.

Friday's decision reversed an earlier ruling from the Virginia Court of Appeals, which upheld Dorsey's restitution order as "reasonablyrelated" to the crime.

In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court cited a decision from a federal appeals court, which found that reimbursement by a defendant could not include payment to the government for the costs of investigating and prosecuting his crime.

Criminal defendants in Virginia routinely are ordered to pay courtcosts, but that is not considered a form of restitution.

Along with his restitution, Howell, 46, was sentenced to five years in prison for burglary and grand larceny. He is also serving 11 years for an unrelated robbery.

Lourice Thomas, co-owner of Thomas Tax Service, said she has received no payments from Howell since he was sent to prison in 2005.

"The Supreme Court bases its decisions on the constitution, and I'm not too well-versed in that," Thomas said. "But I do feel like his behavior caused us to put the security system in."