Appeals court: Man who wrecked girlfriend's car while fleeing cops owes market value, not outstanding loan balance

By Karen Kidd | Apr 23, 2019

MorgueFile - southernfried

TALLAHASSEE (Florida Record) — A man who wrecked his ex-girlfriend's Toyota Yaris while fleeing police in 2016 must pay only the vehicle's fair market value and not the upside-down loan still owed to a bank, a state appeals court has ruled.

In its split four-page decision issued April 22, the Florida First District Appellate Court reversed a Duval County judge's restitution order against Mark Anthony Tolbert, which ordered him to pay the outstanding balance that Amy Schoenfeld owed on the vehicle.

"Tolbert argues that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering him to pay the victim the outstanding balance owed on a loan used to finance the purchase of the vehicle he destroyed," the court's decision said. "We find that the proper measurement of restitution here was the vehicle’s fair market value at the time of the crime."

Appellate court Judge Thomas D. Winokur wrote the decision in which Judge Allen Winsor concurred and Judge Scott Makar dissented.

Tolbert wrecked the Toyota after driving into a ditch on Thomas Road in Jacksonville following a police chase in April 2016, according to the background portion of the appellate court's decision. The following month he entered a negotiated plea that included a provision requiring him to repay Schoenfeld an amount in restitution to be determined by the courts.

During a restitution hearing, Schoenfeld testified she purchased the vehicle in 2013 for about $14,000. The vehicle had been used and was in fair condition with no structural damage and the payoff on the loan was $14,695 when Tolbert wrecked it. Schoenfeld's insurance company paid a part of the payoff, leaving an outstanding balance of almost $11,893.

During the same hearing, a Tolbert expert witness said fair market value of Schoenfeld's vehicle was about $6,100. The state argued Tolbert should pay Schoenfeld's outstanding loan balance, while Tolbert argued he owed only the fair market value.

Duval County Judge Angela M. Cox ordered Tolbert to pay Schoenfeld’s outstanding loan balance.

Under Florida law, a crime victim can receive restitution for damage or loss caused directly or indirectly by a defendant’s offense or related to a criminal episode.

In her concurrence, Winsor said Schoenfeld would effectively receive "a windfall" if she were to receive the outstanding loan balance, something restitution laws "are not supposed to do" in Florida.

Winsor also admitted that restitution often is "theoretical" because victims often do not receive restitution that a court orders.

"And even if a restitution award is promptly paid, it cannot always cure the serious, noneconomic burdens the victim has suffered [and will suffer]," Winsor said in a footnote of her concurrence. "Even if the victim received a perfectly comparable car immediately, she still would have suffered great harm in going through this whole ordeal. But the legal issue in this case is the value of the loss the appellant caused, which the Florida Supreme Court has held is ordinarily 'the fair market value of the property at the time of the offense.'"

In his dissent, Makar said the trial judge "was on the right track" toward making Schoenfeld whole by ordering Tolbert to pay off the upside-down loan. The amount "does not jump out as an abuse of discretion on this record, i.e., not arbitrary, fanciful, or unreasonable," Makar wrote in his dissent.

"If some adjustment is not allowed for victims with upside-down car loans, then full restitution becomes somewhat illusory and would be regressive in its impact on those struggling economically," Makar added. "The trial judge did not err in following what the electorate has now constitutionalized as the right of victims 'to full and timely restitution in every case and from each convicted offender for all losses suffered, both directly and indirectly, by the victim as a result of the criminal conduct'."

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