Friday, December 18, 2009

Restitution Not Appropriate for Accessories After the Fact Without Proximate Cause

US v. Squirrel: Squirrel and Slee pleaded guilty to being accessories after the fact to murder. At sentencing, the district court ordered the two (along with another codefendant) to pay more than $5000 restitution for funeral expenses incurred by the victim's family, but indicated it would also order the defendants to pay restitution "for the use and benefit" of the victim's daughter. After a further hearing, the district court ordered the defendants to pay nearly $1.5 million in restitution for that purposes.

Squirrel and Slee appealed the second restitution award on several grounds, only two of which survived after the Fourth Circuit partially granted a Government motion to dismissed based on a waiver of appellate rights in the plea agreements. The two surviving issues where whether Squirrel and Slee could be ordered to pay restitution as accessories after the fact and whether the order of restitution was permitted under their plea agreements.

On the first issue, the court concluded that there is no per se rule prohibiting accessories after the fact from being liable for restitution, but that (as in any case) the victim's loss must be proximately caused by the specific conduct for which the defendants were convicted. In this case, there was not sufficient evidence to conclude that the victim's estate suffered any greater loss due to Squirrel and Slee's conduct (as the Government cogently put it, they did not cause "her to be 'more dead' than she already was"). On the second issue, the court concluded that the plea agreements did not provide a basis for imposing the second restitution award. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded with instructions to delete the second restitution award.

Congrats to defender office in the WDNC on the win!

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