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Fifth Circuit: Federal Government May Collect Restitution Up To 20-Years

By Matt Clarke

The Fifth Circuit court of appeals held that the government may place a lien on property to collect restitution for up to twenty years after the judgment, even if the victim has waived collection of the restitution.

In 1992, David B. Ridgeway was convicted of 22 federal fraud-related counts and sentenced to 48 months in a federal prison, three years of supervised release, a $50,000 fine and $100,000 in restitution. The restitution was to be paid to the Louisiana Insurance Guaranty Association (LIGA). Ridgeway signed a promissory note with LIGA agreeing to pay at least $100 per month until the debt was paid. He did not pay it. LIGA did not attempt to collect it.

In 2004, the government filed a $150,000 lien against Ridgeway’s property. Ridgeway filed a motion to set aside the lien on the grounds that the government could not collect the restitution for LIGA. The district court denied the motion and Ridgeway appealed.
The Fifth Circuit noted that the case had to be decided based upon the laws in effect in 1992. It held that, although the Victim and Witness Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3663(f)(2)(B), in 1992 limited the period of scheduled restitution payments to five years, it does not limit the collection period. The collection period is controlled by 18 U.S.C. § 3663(h), which allows liens to be used for up to twenty years. Because the underlying judgment is less than 20 years old, the lien is proper.

The Fifth Circuit also held that the government can collect restitution even when the victim has apparently waived collection of restitution. This is because restitution is not purely a judgement for the benefit of the victim, who has no control over the amount of restitution ordered or whether it is ordered at all. It has punitive and rehabilitative elements which bear uniquely on the government’s right to administer punishment. This cannot be waived by the victim. Therefore, the district court was affirmed and the lien was allowed to stand. See: U.S. v. Ridgeway, 5th Cir., No. 06-30269, 489 F.3d 732 (5th Cir. 2007) (decided 06-19-07).

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Related legal case

United States v. Ridgeway