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Restitution in Federal Sex Traffickers Case

Vonteak Alexander pled guilty in federal court in San Francisco to two counts of Interstate Travel in aid of Unlawful Activity in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1952(a)(3)(A) for transporting Jane Doe, a minor at the time, to engage in commercial sex acts. 

Alexander entered the plea in exchange for dismissal of multiple other counts of sex trafficking and conspiracy.  Nevertheless, Alexander acknowledged in the plea agreement that “this [his] conduct gives rise to mandatory restitution to the victim” for the dismissal of the sex-trafficking counts and that he “agree[d] to pay the victim the full amount of the victim’s losses as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 2259(b)(3).” 

When Doe moved for an award of restitution before the district court, however, Alexander contested the amount requested and the judge set a restitution hearing.  At the hearing, the judge found that Doe was entitled to restitution under § 2259 and ordered her to submit her calculations. 

At the second restitution hearing, Alexander changed course and argued that the U.S. District Court lacked jurisdiction to order restitution under § 2259 because he had not pled guilty to the conduct covered under that section.  The district court agreed.  The district court therefore denied the victim all restitution.

Ms. Doe then filed a timely petition for a writ of mandamus under § 3771(d)(3) seeking to vindicate her right under the Crime Victims Act (“CRVA”), under which a crime victim has “[t]he right to full and timely restitution.”  A victim denied restitution by the district court may petition the court of appeals for a writ of mandamus.

Once a writ of mandamus is filed, “[t]he court of appeals shall take up and decide such application within 72 hours after the petition has been filed, unless the litigants, with the approval of the court, have stipulated to a different time period for consideration. . . . In no event shall proceedings be stayed or subject to a continuance of more than five days.” 

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit then set a briefing schedule in accordance with the parties’ stipulation to an extended time for it to consider restitution over a period of several months rather than a period of several hours.  The briefing schedule adopted the suggestion of the parties.

The Ninth Circuit then, on its own, considered whether what it was doing with an extended briefing schedule violated the jurisdiction that the CVRA allowed because the resolution was well beyond the 72 hour deadline.

The Ninth Circuit then discussed the case of Dolan v. United States (2010) 560 U.S. 605, wherein the U.S. Supreme Court considered a 90-day deadline for “the final determination of a victim’s losses” under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3664(d)(5).  In Dolan, the district court had ordered restitution after expiration of the 90-day period and Dolan appealed, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction over the matter once 90 days passed.  Dolan’s appeal was denied.

In Dolan, the U.S. Supreme Court set forth a six-part test that demonstrated § 3664(d) was not jurisdictional, which the Ninth Circuit then sought to apply to Ms. Doe’s writ of mandamus seeking restitution from Mr. Alexander.

The six-part test that Dolan set forth for test whether a deadline is jurisdictional are: (1) Whether the state specified a consequence for noncompliance with the deadline; (2) Whether the statute placed an affirmative burden on the court to issue an order in the case; (3) Whether the statute’s reason for requiring expediency was primarily to benefit the victim and only secondarily to protect the defendant; (4) Whether depriving the court of the power to decide the case “would harm those – the victim of the crime – who likely bear no responsibility for the deadline being missed and whom the statute seeks to benefit; (5) Whether holding the statute deadline is not jurisdictional is consistent with other opinions interpreting similar statutes similarly; and (6) Whether the parties could mitigate the harm in missing the deadline by informing the court or seeking mandamus.”  Id. at 612 – 616.

Applying these factors to the 72-hour deadline under the CVRA, the Ninth Circuit found that all six factors favored not making the deadline jurisdictional.

For more information about restitution in sex cases (both state court and federal court), please click on the following articles:
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