County Criminal Court: CRIMINAL PROCEDURE – Restitution – Restitution ordered as part of the defendant’s sentence for unlicensed contracting was proper where the restitution was awarded to compensate the victim for faulty construction work. Sentence affirmed. Sieja v. State, No. CRC 04-6 APANO, (Fla. 6th Cir.App.Ct. May 11, 2005).












Appeal No. CRC 04-00006 APANO








Opinion filed _________________.


Appeal from a sentence entered

by the Pinellas County Court

County Judge Dorothy Vaccaro


Henry Gyden, Esq.

Attorney for appellant


C. Marie King, Esq.

Assistant State Attorney




            (J. Sullivan)


            THIS MATTER is before the Court on the defendant, Scott Sieja’s, appeal from a sentence and restitution order entered by the Pinellas County Court. After reviewing the briefs and record, this Court affirms the sentence and restitution order.

            The defendant pleaded no contest to charges of unlicensed general contracting. As part of that plea he agreed to pay restitution. The amount of the restitution was to be determined at a later hearing. After the later hearings, the trial court imposed restitution in the amount of $38,600.

            In this appeal the defendant claims there should not have been restitution imposed because the restitution awarded to replace the victim’s loss was not causally related to the crime of unlicensed contracting. This Court does not agree. 1

            The defendant, a builder, contracted with the victim in this case to build the victim a house. The defendant, however, did not have a general contractor’s license. During the construction process, several errors were made. The result was a house that was, in several ways, improperly constructed and defective. During the proceedings below, testimony was taken as to the amount of money that would be required to repair the house. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court determined the appropriate amount needed to repair the house and assessed that amount of money as the amount of restitution that the defendant had to pay to the victim. The defendant argues that the damage to the house was not caused by his criminal act of contracting without a license; instead the damage was caused by faulty construction work. In support of his argument, the defendant cites to that line of cases (most notably Schuette v. State, 822 So.2d 1275 (Fla. 2002) that deny restitution in motor vehicle accidents in which the defendant is driving with a suspended driver’s license. Those courts found that it was merely an accident that caused the loss and, therefore, the damage was not causally related to the lack of a driver’s license. The defendant argues that not having a driver’s license is analogous to not having a contractor’s license. This Court finds that line of cases inapplicable to the case at bar.

            To claim that it was not the lack of a general contractor’s license that caused the damage, but the damage was caused by defective workmanship is sophistry. The main point in requiring that builders have general contracting licenses is to ensure that they are competent to do the work. To be entitled to have a general contractor’s license the individual must pass a test to demonstrate knowledge and ability. Once this minimum of knowledge and ability has been properly demonstrated and the test passed, a license is awarded. Individuals without such a general contractor’s license should not undertake such serious tasks as building a house. Such individuals are presumptively not qualified to do the work, and legally not even permitted to do it. When someone criminally undertakes such a task, and then the task is, perhaps not surprisingly, badly performed, that person should not be permitted to hide behind the too clever argument that the lack of a general contractor’s license did not “cause” the damage but the damage was caused by defective work.

In addition, knowing that only individuals who have demonstrated the necessary knowledge and ability are entitled to have general contractor’s licenses protects the public. By claiming to have a general contractor’s license when he did not actually have one, the defendant mislead the victim into allowing and paying him to build her house. Without committing this crime of attempting to build a house without a general contracting license, the victim would not have permitted the work to even begin. The damage caused to the house (i.e., the amount required as restitution) was caused by the defendant’s crime.

            Finally, the defendant claims that the trial court erred in using testimony from one of the State’s witnesses in which a range of damage was put forth as the amount needed to repair the property. There is nothing improper about using this form of testimony. Moreover, there was testimony from the State’s other witness about the amount of the repairs. The amount of restitution is supported by the record.   

            IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the sentence and restitution order are affirmed.

            DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers at Clearwater, Pinellas County, Florida this _____ day of May, 2005.





                                                                                    David A. Demers

                                                                                    Circuit Judge





                                                                                    Robert J. Morris, Jr.

                                                                                    Circuit Judge






                                                                                    Irene S. Sullivan

                                                                                    Circuit Judge



cc:   State Attorney


        Henry Gyden, Esq.


         Judge Vaccaro


1 Although he retained the right to require the State to demonstrate exactly what the amount of restitution would be, in agreeing to pay restitution the defendant arguably waived his right to contest the applicability of restitution in this case. There does appear to be a bit of uncertainty about what the defendant pleaded to. Was he agreeing to pay restitution and only the amount was in question; or was he only agreeing to pay for any damage that the State could prove was caused by his crime?