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May 27, 2009

Notable Tenth Circuit ruling on restitution awards under the MVRA

The Tenth Circuit has a significant ruling today concerning restitution awards in US v. Dolan, No. 08-2104 (10th Cir. May 27, 2009) (available here).  Here is the start of the opinion:

Brian Dolan viciously attacked a hitchhiker, leaving his victim by the side of the road bleeding, unconscious, with a great many broken bones.  Eventually, officers found the hitchhiker and rushed him to a hospital.  He survived, but his medical expenses topped $100,000. When it came time to sentence Mr. Dolan for his assault, the district court ordered him not only to serve 21 months in prison but to pay $250 monthly in restitution.  Before us, Mr. Dolan doesn’t challenge his prison sentence but does say his victim should get nothing. He contends that the district court’s restitution order is void because it was entered too late, after a statutory deadline passed. Even if the district court had the power to enter an untimely restitution award, Mr. Dolan argues, $250 per month is more than he can afford.

We reject both arguments. The district court’s restitution order was undoubtedly late, coming after the deadline prescribed by the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act.  But a tardy restitution order is not an invalid one. Rather than creating a jurisdictional bar to untimely restitution orders, the MVRA’s deadline seeks to prod the government into ensuring victims swift compensation. Sometimes, of course, the government is not so easily prodded. When that happens — when the MVRA’s deadline passes without a restitution order entered — the affected victim may well have cause to complain, and may even seek a mandamus order compelling action.  But the defendant does not get off the hook. Neither can we say that the district court abused its discretion in pegging Mr. Dolan’s monthly restitution payments at $250, given the record before us.

May 27, 2009 at 04:07 PM | Permalink

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