Brief filed: 01/14/2019
Sample v. United States
United States Supreme Court; Case No. 18-759
Decision below 901 F.3d 1196 (10th Cir. Aug. 27, 2018)
This case presents an important issue impacting defendants of all incomes convicted of a variety of crimes. The Tenth Circuit held that a sentencing court could not consider the degree to which a defendant’s “earning capacity” would allow him to pay restitution to the victims of his financial fraud when fashioning a sentence. This holding warrants review because it deepens a conflict of authority over whether district courts may sentence a defendant to probation or to a reduced prison term to enable that defendant to earn income to pay restitution and because the Tenth Circuit was wrong on the merits. This case presents an important questions regarding the broad discretion of sentencing judges. While Congress intended restitution be satisfied in every case to the fullest extent possible, the Tenth Circuit’s decision puts this goal at risk by refusing to allow sentencing courts to even consider a defendant’s capacity to pay restitution when imposing a sentence. Because of restitution’s importance within the federal criminal scheme, this Court should grant review to determine whether the capacity to make restitution payments is an appropriate sentencing consideration. This Court’s review also is necessary because the Tenth Circuit’s decision is in significant tension with the historical tradition of broad discretion in the information a court may consider when imposing a sentence.
Clifford W. Berlow, Nathaniel K.S. Wackman, and Grace C. Signorelli-Cassady, Jenner & Block, Chicago, IL; Jeffrey T. Green, NACDL, Washington, DC