Defendant in Sex Trafficking Case Did Not Waive Appeal But Appeal Meritless - In re Sealed Case

January 3, 2013 by David S. Seltzer

Financial restitution orders are common in serious sex offenses involving minors. Victims' rights laws permit minors who are victims of certain crimes to seek restitution for many financial costs created by the crime, which can include medical and mental health treatment, basic living expenses and more. Defendants are able to challenge these restitution orders, of course, but as with drug crimes, the challenges are often not successful. In In re Sealed Case, an unnamed defendant appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals challenging order to pay $3,892,055 in restitution. The government argued that he had waived his appeal. The D.C. Circuit disagreed, but ultimately rejected the defendant's arguments on the merits.

The defendant pleaded guilty to four counts of sex trafficking of minors. He was accused of, and admitted to, prostituting four underage females in Washington, D.C. His plea agreement included a section notifying him that the court must order him to make financial restitution, and also a waiver of his right to appeal the sentence under most circumstances. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. A separate hearing established that the defendant must pay six or seven figures to each of the four victims, for mental health, attorney fees and as reparations for "ill-gotten gains." The defendant appealed the total bill, which was nearly $4 million.

The D.C. Circuit started its analysis by finding that the defendant did have a right to appeal, despite the waiver. The plea agreement was a long and complex document, the court said, and the relevant language discusses the defendant's rights to appeal a sentence involving prison, fines and/or supervised release. The only mention of restitution is a warning that it may be ordered, which the appeals court found was not the same as a waiver of the right to appeal it. Indeed, other language suggests that forfeiture or restitution waivers are treated separately. Having allowed the challenge, however, the D.C. Circuit found no merit in it. Restitution need not be calculated exactly, but should be calculated "with reasonable certainty." Thus, the court said, there was no need for the expert making the calculations to take into account the victims' previous traumatic experiences. Nor was it error that the court didn't find out whether the victims are interested in mental health treatment. The length of the prostitution doesn't change the dollar amount, the circuit court said, because PTSD can develop quickly. And the victims' grand jury testimony was not unbelievable or unreliable as a basis for restitution.

Because of the kind of crime this is, it may have been inevitable that the defendant would be ordered to pay restitution. Federal law requires restitution--it is not merely allowed, but mandatory. This is one of the many, many reasons why it's best to avoid a conviction for serious sex crimes to begin with. Once the prosecution has a criminal conviction, the restitution order is required. So, too, are a number of other life-altering consequences, such as inclusion on a sex offender registration list, with restrictions on the defendant's rights and residency and requirements to check in with police. A strong defense of the underlying criminal charges against you can not only avoid prison, but sometimes also protect your finances and civil rights.

If you're accused of any kind of crime in south Florida, don't wait to call Seltzer Law, P.A., for a free consultation. We answer client calls 24 hours a day and seven days a week, because police agencies don't stop working at 5. To learn more or set up a consultation, call 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us an email.

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