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United States v. Scott

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 16, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
CASSANDRA L. SCOTT

         SECTION F

          ORDER AND REASONS

          MARTIN L.C. FELDMAN U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Cassandra Scott's motion to reduce restitution. For the reasons that follow, the motion is DENIED.

         Background

         Cassandra Scott pled guilty to one count of bank larceny in 2002 and was sentenced to five years of probation. Because her crime fell under the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act, Scott was also ordered to pay $39, 000 to the victim of her offense, Hibernia Bank, on a payment schedule of $100.00 per month.

         After her probation period ended, Scott failed to make any restitution payments for five years. She eventually resumed making monthly payments, but in the monthly amount of $40.00-$75.00. In June 2016, Scott filed a motion to waive restitution, arguing that the restitution obligation made it difficult to provide for her family's basic needs. The Court denied her motion. Since then, she has continued to make her $100.00 monthly payments. She currently owes $18, 842.70.

         Now, Scott requests that the balance of her restitution debt be reduced due to financial hardship: her college-aged daughter and son that still require her financial support.

         I.

         The Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA) requires courts to order restitution to the victims of certain offenses as part of the sentence imposed for those offenses.[1] 18 U.S.C. Section 3664. Courts must order restitution in the amount of the loss to the victim. As the name of the Act states, restitution is mandatory. See United States v. Taylor, 582 F.3d 558, 567 (5th Cir. 2009)(“[T]he language of the . . . statutes regarding restitution is plain and allows the district court no discretion.”)(quoting United States v. Leon-Delfis, 203 F.3d 103, 115 (1st Cir. 2000)).

         Section 3664(f) specifically directs courts to order restitution without consideration of the defendant's economic circumstances. See Leon-Delfis, 203 F.3d at 115 (“The Sentencing Commission and Congress were more concerned about the inherent fairness of making crime victims whole than fairness to defendants who were found guilty of financial crimes.”). If “the defendant's ability to pay restitution” is affected due to a “material change in the defendant's economic circumstances, ” however, defendants are instructed to notify the Court. 18 U.S.C. § 3664(k). Upon receipt of such notification, Section 3664(k) gives courts the authority to either “adjust the payment schedule, or require immediate payment in full, as the interests of justice require.” Id.

         Although the Court may alter the payment schedule of restitution due to changes in the defendant's economic situation, its discretion to alter the underlying restitution order is limited. Section 3664(o) makes clear that the restitution order is final and may only be altered: (1) to correct a clerical error; (2) to appeal the sentence as improperly applied; or (3) in order to alter the restitution payment schedule. See 18 U.S.C. § 3664(o). This list is exhaustive. See United States v. Puentes, 803 F.3d 597, 607 (11th Cir. 2015)(noting that “every Circuit Court to consider this issue has indicated that a district court may only modify a mandatory restitution order through one of the means specified in Section 3664(o).”)(collecting cases). Accordingly, courts do not have the authority to waive restitution debts or otherwise alter the amount owed by defendants.

         II.

         Scott asks this Court to reduce its restitution order on the grounds of financial hardship; she claims that she cannot afford her family's basic needs. This mirrors the reasoning to the original motion that was denied by this Court back in June of 2016. The only difference is that Scott presently states that her hardship centers on the fact that she will soon have two children in college. Scott attaches financial documents to the motion showing allotted tuition costs for her son.

         In opposing Scott's request, the government points out that this Court has already heard and rejected Scott's argument in June 2016 when she moved this Court to waive her restitution obligation. The government submits that the circumstances have not changed and the Court lacks ...


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