(CN) – A judge can order restitution more than 90 days after sentencing if the only issue left open is the amount, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a 5-4 decision.
The ruling in the case of Brian Dolan marks the first time since 1990 that the high court has interpreted federal restitution law.
Dolan beat up a hitchhiker and left him on the side of the road, bleeding, unconscious and with several broken bones. The victim racked up more than $100,000 in medical expenses.
Dolan was sentenced to one year and nine months in prison, with the amount of restitution left open until the court received more information.
Under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act, courts have 90 days from sentencing to order restitution.
But nearly six months after the 90-day deadline, the sentencing judge ordered Dolan to pay $104,650 in restitution.
Dolan’s lawyer urged the high court to overturn the restitution order, but the majority ruled that the sentencing court had the power to order restitution after the deadline, so long as it “made clear” its intention to do so.
“The fact that a sentencing court misses the statute’s 90-day deadline, even through its own fault or that of the government, does not deprive the court of the power to order restitution,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the five-justice majority.
Chief Justice John Roberts disagreed, saying the law anticipates a situation where, as in Dolan’s case, the sentencing court needed more information to accurately estimate restitution. The law states that if the victim’s losses “are not ascertainable” at least 10 days before sentencing, the court must set a date for the final restitution order “not to exceed 90 days after sentencing.”
“Under the court’s view,” Roberts wrote, “failing to meet the 90-day deadline has no consequence whatever.”
He was joined in dissent by Justices John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy.