The Pennsylvania Superior Court has established that restitution must be specified at the time of sentencing to be legal. The court vacated the original sentence in Commonwealth v. Ramos, holding the trial court has “no authority to impose a generalized, open-ended sentence of restitution, but leave the amount and method of payment for decision at a later date.”
Ramos entered a nolo contendere plea for one count of criminal mischief as a summary offense. The court sentenced Ramos to a fine of $50.00 plus court costs and then ordered a separate restitution hearing at a later date. After the restitution hearing, the court ordered Appellant to pay $800.00 in restitution, six months after the initial sentencing.
Ramos argued imposition of restitution at a hearing six months after the initial sentencing constituted an illegal sentence. The law states:
§ 1106. Restitution for injuries to person or property
(c)(2) At the time of sentencing the court shall specify the amount and method of restitution.
The court noted, “[a]s long as the sentencing court sets some amount and method of restitution at the initial sentencing, the court can later modify that order.” However it is the postponement of imposing restitution at the initial sentencing hearing that does not meet the statutory requirements. Therefore, the entire sentence was “tainted.”
The court vacated the sentence and remanded the case for resentencing. The court also pointed out restitution, including as a probation condition, is a sentence, not an award of damages.
Some restitution and method of restitution must be given at the initial sentencing hearing. If the court does not impose this at sentencing, it cannot later impose restitution, due to the wording of the Pennsylvania statute.
We once had a case where restitution was imposed long after sentencing and the Superior Court held that it was an illegal sentence, an issue that can never be waived. Therefore the Court corrected the sentence in that case without the need to even file a brief.
To read the full opinion: