Justices Reject Child-Porn Restitution Challenge

WASHINGTON (CN) – A man ordered to pay restitution after he was caught with hundreds of child-pornography files on his computer suffered defeat Tuesday at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Marcelo Manrique had learned that he would face mandatory restitution as part of his initial sentencing judgment in June 2014, which also included a 72-month prison term and a lifetime of supervised release.

Since the victims’ damages had not been ascertained at that point, however, the trial court advised Manrique that it would resolve restitution in an amended judgment to be filed at a later date.

Manrique filed a notice of appeal connected to the June 2014 initial judgment, but he failed to file a second notice of appeal after the court ordered him later that year to pay $4,500 in restitution to the only victim who sought restitution.

When Manrique challenged his restitution in his ensuing appeal to the 11th Circuit, the government argued that he forfeited the right to make such an appeal by failing to give notice.

The Supreme Court affirmed for the government 6-2 Wednesday, with the bench’s newest member, Justice Neil Gorsuch, taking no part.

“Petitioner in this case did not file a defective notice of appeal from the amended judgment imposing restitution, but rather failed altogether to file a notice of appeal from the amended judgment,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority. “Courts do not have discretion to overlook such an error, at least where it is called to their attention.

“We hold that a defendant who wishes to appeal an order imposing restitution in a deferred restitution case must file a notice of appeal from that order, the 9-page lead opinion concludes. “Because petitioner failed to do so, and the government objected, the Court of Appeals properly declined to consider his challenge to the amount of restitution imposed.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg meanwhile faulted Manrique’s trial judge for not advising him of his appellate rights, saying she would reverse “in lieu of trapping an unwary defendant.”

“The government agrees that the District Court was ‘absolutely’ required to advise Manrique of his right to appeal the restitution order, and anticipates that the required advice ‘will prevent cases like this from arising again in the future,” Ginsburg wrote, quoting the attorney’s argument Oct. 11, 2016, before the court.

“Aware of its obligation to advise Manrique of his right to appeal, the District Court appears to have assumed that no second notice was required to place the restitution amount before the Court of Appeals,” Ginsburg continued. “Without awaiting another appeal notice, the District Court clerk transmitted the amended judgment, five days after its entry, to the Court of Appeals, which filed that judgment on the docket of the appeal from the conviction and sentence already pending in that court. In turn, the Eleventh Circuit’s clerk asked the District Court reporter to send up the transcript of, and record from, the restitution hearing. In light of what occurred here, I would hold that the clerk’s dispatch of the amended judgment to the Court of Appeals ‘confer[red] jurisdiction on the court of appeals.’”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined Ginsburg’s five-paragraph dissent,

Chief Justice John Roberts joined the majority opinion, as did Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan.

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