Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Restitution Requirements Under Section 3664(f)(2) Are Satisfied Without Express Findings

In United States v. Lessner, the 3C addressed and rejected a number of sentencing challenges and held, inter alia, that sentencing courts need not make explicit findings on the record in support of a restitution order, so long as the record evidences the court’s consideration of the statutory factors.

Defendant, a procurement contracting officer for a federal agency, pled guilty to all 21 counts of an indictment charging her with wire fraud, defense procurement fraud, destruction of records in a federal investigation, and destruction and removal of property to prevent seizure. The district court denied defendant’s request for a downward departure based on diminished capacity, and calculated an advisory range of 51 to 63 months, based on an offense level of 24 and criminal history category of I. The offense level reflected the court’s assessment of a 2-level enhancement for obstruction of justice and its denial of a downward adjustment for acceptance of responsibility. The court imposed a sentence of 51 months’ imprisonment, 3 years of supervised release, and mandatory restitution of $938,965.59, with a specified payment schedule.

The 3C first considered and rejected defendant’s challenges regarding the sufficiency of the district court’s plea inquiry. In particular, the 3C rejected defendant’s arguments that the factual bases for 3 counts were insufficient. It explained that a court need not be "convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of a defendant’s guilty to accept a plea of guilty; it need only find sufficient evidence in the record as a whole to justify a conclusion of guilt." In making this determination, the court can look to "‘the defendant’s own admissions, the government’s proffer of evidence, the presentence report, or "whatever means is appropriate in a specific case – so long as the factual basis is put on the record."’" In this case, the 3C found the evidence sufficient on all three challenged counts.

The 3C also rejected defendant’s claim that the district court erred in denying her a downward adjustment for acceptance of responsibility. The 3C the continuing nature of defendant’s obstructive conduct, as well as her ongoing denial of certain conduct and her invocation of September 11 and her husband’s heart attack as justification for conduct that began before these events, and concluded that the district court’s decision was not in error.
Defendant also challenged the district court’s imposition of restitution, arguing that it failed to make adequate findings as to her financial circumstances before setting the payment schedule. The 3C held that a district court need not place on the record its consideration of the defendant’s financial resources, projected earnings, and financial obligations. Rather, "[W]here, as here, the record evidences a court’s consideration of the defendant’s financial situation–albeit without express findings–the requirements of § 3664(f)(2) are satisfied."

The 3C rejected defendant’s other sentencing challenges as well, finding that the record reflected the district court’s "meaningful consideration" of the sentencing factors, that the bottom-of-the-range sentence was substantively reasonable, and that the restitution order did not violate the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment.

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