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Sunday, October 01, 2017

What Happens to Monetary Penalties When Convicted Defendant Dies with Pending Appeals?

This was the question in a recent Second Circuit Court of Appeals case. The defendant was convicted of securities fraud, mail and wire fraud and obstruction of justice, and entered into a negotiated guilty plea to criminal tax charges. Asset forfeiture, a fine, and a restitution order resulted, among other consequences. Bail bond had also been forfeited, due to violations of the bail order. At the time of death, appeals were pending on the criminal convictions.

The case involved the rare application of the abatement ab initio doctrine. This doctrine provides that when a convicted defendant dies while his direct appeal is pending, his death abates not only the appeal but also all proceedings in the prosecution from its inception.The effect is to leave the defendant as if he had never been indicted or convicted. This doctrine is rooted in the interests of finality and just punishment. Finality requires that a defendant not stand convicted without resolution of the merits of an appeal, and recognition of the purposes of just punishment leads to the conclusion that to the extent that the judgment of conviction orders incarceration or other sanctions that are designed to punish the defendant, that purpose can no longer be served.

The court addressed the impact of the ab initio doctrine to the following aspects of the case:

Convictions. The defendants convictions were abated, except those for which no appeal was pending. Since the defendant pled guilty to the tax evasion counts and waived his right to appeal, those did not abate.

Restitution. Other courts have split on the question whether restitution obligations abate at death, since it is usually more in the nature of making the victim whole and less about punishment. Those courts allowing abatement do so because restitution depends on a valid, final conviction, which does not occur due to the pending appeal. Others that hold that restitution does not abate do so because they consider restitution to be compensatory, not punitive in nature. The Second Circuit sided on the side of abatement at death and voided the restitution obligations. The opinion discussed whether if restitution had already been paid, then the payment and punishment would have been complete and irretreivable and thus could not be abated. However, it did not decide this issue since the restitution payments were stayed during the pendency of the appeal and thus had not been “paid.”.

Bail Bond Forfeiture. If the ab initio doctrine wipes out the conviction, is a bail bond forfeiture also eliminated? The court ruled no. The court indicated that the bail bond forfeiture was not part of the conviction but related to a violation of a civil contractual agreement – that is, it was a civil matter and nota criminal matter. Since the ab initio doctrine is a criminal doctrine, it does not apply to the bail bond forfeiture.

U.S. v. Brooks, 2017 WL 4158790 (2nd Cir. 2017)

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