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Lawyer, wife appeal restitution orders in animal cruelty case

A Baltimore County lawyer and his wife will ask the Court of Appeals to throw out nearly $17,000 in restitution that was part of their sentencing on animal cruelty charges.

Hilton and Donna Silver initially pleaded guilty to one count of animal cruelty in Baltimore County District Court in August 2009 for neglecting one of the family’s horses, which was so emaciated that county officials had it euthanized on the spot. Prosecutors agreed to drop charges involving the two surviving horses as part of the guilty plea.

A District Court judge in part sentenced the Silvers to pay the county nearly $10,000 for caring for the two surviving horses, which were sent to Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Woodbine. The Silvers then lost their appeal in Baltimore County Circuit Court last April, where their restitution payment was increased to $16,781. (The county has since given custody of the horses to Days End.)

But the Silvers, in separate court filings that use similar language, argue the restitution is related to the surviving horses that were not subject to their guilty plea.

“The law is clear restitution may not be awarded upon counts with which petitioner was not convicted,” the briefs state. “Accordingly, the restitution order was improper and the sentence is illegal.”

Appellate lawyers with the state attorney general’s office countered in their briefs that by pleading guilty, the Silvers acknowledged responsibility for “conduct underlying the other counts giving rise to the harm for which the restitution was ordered.”

Removing the restitution from the sentence could also set a dangerous precedent for de novo appeals, the briefs state.

“[I]f this Court were to hold that a circuit court could not consider the circumstances surrounding a plea agreement in District Court, such a holding would create the ability for a defendant to ‘game the system,’” the briefs state.

The Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center filed an amicus brief supporting the state’s position and asked the court to adopt a standard that restitution can be ordered for losses caused directly by a defendant even beyond the conviction counts.

“To allow the petitioner to accept the probation terms and then appeal the restitution portion, while accepting the benefit of the bargain, would be poor public policy and make a mockery of our criminal justice system,” the organization’s brief states.

Hilton Silver is also appealing the 60-day jail sentence he received in Circuit Court. Donna Silver has served the 30-day sentence she received in Circuit Court. Each received and served three weekends in jail as part of their District Court sentences, time served that was credited in their Circuit Court sentences.