Attorney General's Opinion
Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal
February 17, 2002
Joseph D. D'Alesio
Executive Director, Superior Court Operations
231 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106
Dear Mr. D'Alesio:
You have requested an opinion regarding an amendment to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-215, relating to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund. The purpose of that fund is to provide compensation and services for the victims of crimes. Effective May 8, 1997, the General Assembly added to section 54-215 the following mandate: "Any restitution collected by the Office of Adult Probation pursuant to Section 53a-30 and which is not disbursed within five years, because the victim could not be located, shall be deposited in the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund." 1997 Conn Pub. Acts 97-59, § 3. You have asked whether this provision "applies to funds collected pursuant to pre-May 8, 1997 court orders requiring that restitution be paid to an identified crime victim, where the restitution funds were collected (1) less that five years before the effective date of the act or (2) after the effective date of the act." We conclude that only restitution collected after May 8, 1997 should be placed in the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund. Restitution collected prior to that date should be transferred to the Treasurer for deposit in the General Fund in accordance with the escheat provisions of Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 3-56a through 3-74a.
Connecticut’s courts have consistently expressed reluctance "to construe statutes retroactively where the statutes affect substantial changes in the law, unless the legislative intent clearly and unequivocally appears otherwise." Renz v. Allstate Insurance Co., 61 Conn. App. 336, 346-47, 763 A.2d 1072 (2001) quoting Gil v. Courthouse One, 239 Conn. 676, 686, 687 A.2d 146 (1997). This principle of statutory construction is codified in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 55-3, which states: "No provision of the general statutes, not previously contained in the statutes of the state, which imposes any new obligation on any person or corporation, shall be construed to have a retrospective effect."
The passage of the 1997 amendment to § 54-215 affected a substantive change in the law regarding unclaimed restitution monies. Connecticut’s escheat statutes, which previously governed the disposition of such funds, establish a procedure through which an owner of abandoned property may seek to reclaim it from the Treasurer at any time. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 3-70a. That statute also allows a claimant to obtain judicial review of the Treasurer’s denial of a claim. In contrast, § 54-215, as amended, does not make provision for a victim to recover his or her restitution once it is deposited in the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund.1 Because of this significant change in a victim’s ability to obtain his or her restitution more than five years after it is collected, we conclude that § 3 of Public Act 97-59 should only be applied prospectively. Accordingly, this office advises you that any restitution collected prior to the May 8, 1997 effective date of the Act should be submitted to the Treasurer and deposited in the General Fund pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 3-69a;2 it should not be deposited in the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund.
With regard to restitution made pursuant to court orders entered prior to May 8, 1997, but not collected by the Office of Adult Probation until after that date, we conclude that such restitution should be deposited in the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund if the restitution is not claimed by the victim. The Connecticut Supreme Court has noted that "a law is not retroactive merely because part of the factual situation to which it is applied occurred prior to its enactment; rather, a law is retroactive only when it operates upon transactions which have been completed or upon rights which have been acquired or upon obligations which have existed prior to its passage." Peck v. Jacquemin, 196 Conn. 53, 57 n. 10, 491 A.2d 1043 (1985), quoting Frisbie v. Sunshine Mining Co., 93 Idaho 169, 172, 457 P.2d 408 (1969). See also City of Walla Walla v. Topel, 104 Wash. App. 816, 822, 17 P.3d 1244 (2001); In Re Joshua M., 66 Cal. App. 4th 458, 469, 78 Cal. Rptr.2d 110, 116 (1998); 2 Sutherland Statutory Construction § 41:2 (6th ed. rev. 2001). A court order that is entered pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-30a and that requires a defendant to make restitution to an identified victim as a condition of probation or discharge does not confer upon that victim an actionable right to receive payment. Such an obligation is enforceable only by "the substantial threat of revocation of probation and incarceration." Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare v. Davenport, 495 U.S. 552, 559, 110 S.Ct 2126, 109 L.Ed 2d 588 (1990). See also State v. Pieger, 240 Conn. 639 (1997)(the primary goal of conditions of probation, including the payment of restitution, is the rehabilitation and reformation of the defendant rather than the compensation of the victim).
Because a crime victim cannot enforce a defendant’s restitution obligation through a civil proceeding, 495 U.S. at 559, the victim only becomes entitled to receive court-ordered restitution after it is collected from the defendant by the Office of Adult Probation. We conclude, therefore, that the date of a court order requiring a defendant to pay restitution does not control whether such restitution, if subsequently unclaimed by the victim, should be deposited in the General Fund or the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund. Instead, the determinative date is the date on which the restitution is collected by the Office of Adult Probation, because that is the date on which the victim acquires a legal interest that would be affected by the statutory amendment.
In sum, we advise you that unclaimed restitution collected prior to May 8, 1997, pursuant to a pre-May 8, 1997 court order, should be deposited by the Treasurer in the General Fund. Restitution collected after May 8, 1997, should be deposited in the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund if it is not claimed by the victim.
We trust this letter answers your inquiry.
Very truly yours,
Heather J. Wilson
Assistant Attorney General
1It is important to note that the intent of the statutory amendment was not to cut off a victim’s right to receive restitution, but instead, to ensure that any abandoned restitution monies are used for the benefit of other victims of crime rather than simply reverting to the State’s General Fund. 1997 Judiciary Comm., pt. 3, p. 974-75 (Testimony of Judicial Branch Representative Melissa Farley).
2Conn. Gen. Stat. § 3-69a provides: