Supreme Court rules against Apache man in restitution case
In a close decision, the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that a member of the Mescalero Apache Nation of New Mexico must pay restitution for his crime even though a judge failed to meet a specific deadline in federal law.

Brian Russell Dolan pleaded guilty to a violent attack on the reservation. He was sentenced to prison time and parole but restitution wasn't determined until months later.

The Mandatory Victims Restitution Act requires a judge to act within 90 days. But the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, said the deadline didn't matter because the judge had previously told Dolan to expect to pay restitution.

"We hold that a sentencing court that misses the 90-day deadline nonetheless retains the power to order restitution — at least where, as here, the sentencing court made clear prior to the deadline’s expiration that it would order restitution, leaving open (for more than 90 days) only the amount," Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the majority.

The decision did not break down along the usual conservative-liberal lines. Breyer was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor, the newest member of the court.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the dissent and was joined by Justice John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy. Roberts said the law at issue is very clear.

"These provisions authorize restitution orders at sentencing. They confer no authority to order restitution after sentencing has concluded," Roberts wrote in the dissent.

Supreme Court Decision:
Syllabus | Opinion [Breyer] | Dissent [Roberts]

10th Circuit Decision:
Dolan v. US (June 26, 2009)

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