Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

U.S. Supreme Court Holds Restitution Deadlines Not Jurisdictional

Under the federal Mandatory Restitution Act (MRA), 18 U.S.C. § 3664(d)(5), “the court shall set a date for the final determination of the victim’s losses, not to exceed 90 days after sentencing.” The U.S. Supreme Court, however, held on June 14, 2010 that a sentencing court which misses the 90-day deadline retains the ability to order restitution when it has made clear prior to the deadline’s expiration that it would impose restitution, leaving open only the amount.

Brian R. Dolan pleaded guilty on February 8, 2007 to a federal charge of assault resulting in serious bodily injury. He was sentenced on July 30, 2007 to 21 months in prison and 3 years’ supervised release. The district court stated it had insufficient information regarding restitution and would leave that issue open.

Sixty-seven days after sentencing, the probation office prepared an addendum to Dolan’s presentence report that included $104,649.78 in restitution. However, the court did not hold a restitution hearing until February 4, 2008. Dolan argued the law no longer authorized the district court to impose restitution due to the expiration of the 90-day statutory deadline.

The court disagreed and ordered restitution; on appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court noted there was no dispute that the district court had missed the deadline. To determine the consequences of the missed deadline, the Court was required to examine the statutory language and relevant context, and what they revealed about the purposes that the time limit was designed to serve.

A “jurisdictional” deadline is absolute and unwaiverable, preventing a court from permitting or taking the action attached to the deadline by statute. A “claims-processing rule” does not limit a court’s jurisdiction; it is a deadline that regulates the timing of motions or claims and can be waived unless brought to the court’s attention. Finally, there are deadlines that create a time-related directive that is legally enforceable but does not deprive a judge or public official of the power to act if the deadline passes.

The Supreme Court found the MRA’s deadline was of the third type, and set forth six factors that led it to reach that conclusion. In sum, those conclusions are based on the importance of restitution and the harm to victims if restitution is not imposed.

In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts wrote that such considerations were “a series of irrelevancies that cannot trump the clear statutory text.” He argued the MRA specifies a deadline to alter the sentence, which becomes final upon imposition. “The court had no more power to order restitution 269 days after sentencing than it did to order an additional term of imprisonment,” Roberts stated.

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision affirmed the judgment of the Tenth Circuit, demonstrating that a statutory deadline is only a deadline when the government says it is. See: Dolan v. United States, 130 S.Ct. 2533 (2010).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Dolan v. United States