Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion from Feb. 18

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

United States v. Casados

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Feb. 18 that the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act doesn’t permit the victim’s representative to substitute their own expenses for those of the victim. 

In this case, Twyla Casados, a member of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, was driving under the influence within the boundaries of the Southern Ute reservation in Colorado when she struck and killed another motorist, Charlene Bailey. Casados pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder, and her plea agreement specifically anticipated a restitution order and described Bailey as “the victim” of the offense.

The presentence report prepared by the United States Probation Office discussed two separate restitution requests. First, the Probation Office explained that the La Plata County Crime Victim Compensation Board paid $1,854 for Bailey’s cremation services and concluded that the compensation board was entitled to restitution for that payment. Second, the Probation Office described the government’s restitution request for $7,724.20 to reimburse Bailey’s son, Anthony Rivas, for airline and other travel-related expenses incurred when Rivas, his wife and his two children traveled to Casados’s detention hearing. 

The government argued that Rivas was entitled to restitution under the MVRA because the act authorizes restitution to reimburse the victim’s transportation costs for attending court proceedings and when the victim is deceased, a “representative of the victim’s estate [or] another family member . . . may assume the victim’s rights” according to the act. The Probation Office found this argument unpersuasive and recommended that the district court deny this restitution request.

At her sentencing hearing, Casados concurred with the Probation Office’s recommendations on restitution. She specifically agreed that she owed restitution to the Victim Compensation Board to cover the costs of Bailey’s cremation services, but she argued she should not be required to cover travel expenses incurred by Bailey’s family members. In response, the government maintained that “the law is very clear that [Bailey’s children] stand in her shoes for the purposes of the restitution statute.”

The district court agreed that the statute permitted recovery of the family’s travel expenses and ordered Casados to pay $7,724.20 in restitution to Rivas. The district court also ordered Casados to pay the undisputed $1,854 in restitution to the Victim Compensation Board and sentenced Casados to 168 months in prison, the top of the range the parties stipulated to in the plea agreement. Casados appealed to the 10th Circuit, challenging only the order to pay $7,724.20 in restitution to Rivas for his family’s travel expenses.

The Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996 requires the district court to award restitution to reimburse a victim of an offense for transportation expenses incurred to attend proceedings related to the offense. But the MVRA also permits a victim’s representative to “assume the victim’s rights.” 

The 10th Circuit concluded the act doesn’t permit the victim’s representative to substitute their own expenses for those of the victim. It ruled the district court lacked authority to order Casados to pay restitution for transportation expenses that were incurred not by the victim of Casados’s crime but instead by the victim’s representative. The 10th Circuit reversed and remanded for entry of a corrected restitution order.

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