Dolan v. United States

PETITIONER:Brian Russell Dolan
RESPONDENT:United States
LOCATION:U.S. Capitol Building

DOCKET NO.: 09-367
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2009-2010)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 560 US 605 (2010)
GRANTED: Jan 08, 2010
ARGUED: Apr 20, 2010
DECIDED: Jun 14, 2010

Pamela S. Karlan – for the petitioner (appointed by the Court)
Toby J. Heytens – Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent

Facts of the case

Brian Russell Dolan pleaded guilty to assault resulting in bodily harm in the New Mexico federal district court. He was sentenced to twenty-one months in prison and ordered to pay the victim $250 per month in restitution. Mr. Dolan appealed arguing that because the district court failed to award restitution within ninety days of Mr. Dolan’s sentencing, the district court lacked the authority to do so.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court. The court held that the time limits established by the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act are not jurisdictional and, thus, the district court’s tardiness in entering the order does not relieve the defendant of his obligation to pay.


May a federal district court enter a restitution order beyond the time prescribed under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act?

Media for Dolan v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – April 20, 2010 in Dolan v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 14, 2010 in Dolan v. United States

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Breyer has the Opinion of the Court in two cases this Morning.

Stephen G. Breyer:

The first is Dolan versus United States as to do with the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act, which says “notwithstanding any other provision of law, when sentencing a defendant convicted of certain crimes”.

The Court shall order that the defendant make restitution to the victim.

Now later provision of the act says “if the victim’s losses are not ascertainable by the date, that is ten days prior to sentencing, the Court shall set a date for the final determination of the victim’s losses, not to exceed 90 days after sentencing”.

In this case, the sentencing Judge made clear in his initial judgment that he would order restitution but he couldn’t determine or didn’t determine the precise amount of the victims loss until more than those 90 days of past, indeed three months had passed.

The question before us is whether the sentencing Court have the power to ascertain the victims loss at that later time.

We conclude that the judge did possess that power.


Well this Court has sometimes read a statutory provision with a deadline like this as creating a legally enforceable time directive but as not requiring the judge to forfeit the power to act, if the time deadline is missed.

We have held for example that the judge who misses a statutory time deadline for holding a bail hearing, can still hold that hearing and deny bail even at a later date.

We here hold that the deadline before us is that kind of a deadline.

Missing the deadline does not deprive the sentencing judge of the power to order restitution.

One important factor that convinces us is that immediately following the words not to exceed 90 days after sentencing, the statute specifies that a victim, who subsequently discovers further losses, can still seek restitution, no matter when he discovers those losses.

It would be an anomalous for a single provision to grant a right to recover restitution to a victim who does not discover the harm until say one year or five years or 20 years has passed, but deny that same right to a victim who cannot ascertain the precise amount of his harm for more than 90 days and it would be particularly anomalous to read this statute that way since the basic aim of this statute is to secure mandatory restitution, to crime victims.

We discuss these reasons and others at greater length in our opinion.

The defendant here did not try to show that the delay prejudice came in anyway and we consequently do not consider how such prejudice could be taken into account, nor do we consider the complicated question of when a defendant can or must appeal a matter that affects not only restitution but also other kinds of sentencing.

We leave all such matters to another day.

Chief Justice Roberts has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Stevens, Scalia and Kennedy have joined.