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United States v. Williams

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 8, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RICO RODRIGUS WILLIAMS, Defendant.

          OPINION

          PAUL L. FRIEDMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The matter is before the Court on the motion [Dkt. No. 246] of the United States for restitution under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (“MVRA”), 18 U.S.C. § 3663A, or in the alternative, under the Victim and Witness Protection Act (“VWPA”), 18 U.S.C. § 3663. Defendant Rico Rodrigus Williams opposes the motion. Upon careful consideration of the parties' papers, the relevant legal authorities, and the entire record in this case, the Court will grant the motion in part.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Williams, a former member of the United States Air Force, killed Army Sergeant Juwan Johnson during a gang initiation that took place on July 3, 2005 near the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. See United States v. Williams, 946 F.Supp.2d 112, 114 (D.D.C. 2013). On November 15, 2010, after a twelve-day jury trial, Mr. Williams was convicted of one count of second degree murder, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1111(a), and one count of witness tampering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(3). See United States v. Williams, 946 F.Supp.2d at 114. The Court sentenced Mr. Williams in April 2012 to twenty-two years in prison on his second degree murder conviction and ten years in prison on his witness tampering conviction, the two sentences to run concurrently. See id. at 113. The Court also imposed five years of supervised release, with conditions, following the period of incarceration. See id. At sentencing, the Court informed the parties that restitution would be ordered, but deferred determination of the amount of restitution until the parties had an opportunity to file supplemental briefs. See id. Following supplemental briefing, in May 2013, the Court ordered Mr. Williams to pay restitution in the amount of $756, 000 to Sergeant Johnson's estate under the MVRA. See id. at 114-15.[2]

         In February 2016, the D.C. Circuit reversed the conviction for second degree murder and remanded for a new trial. See United States v. Williams, 836 F.3d 1, 19 (D.C. Cir. 2016). This Court subsequently vacated the second degree murder conviction and the restitution order based on that conviction. See May 3, 2017 Order. On June 15, 2017, Mr. Williams pled guilty to a superseding information charging him with one count of involuntary manslaughter under 18 U.S.C. § 1112(a). See Plea Agreement. That same day, the Court sentenced Mr. Williams to eight years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and eight years in prison for witness tampering, those sentences to run concurrently, followed by three years of supervised release. See Amended Judgment at 3. The Court deferred determination of the amount of restitution pending further briefing from the parties. See id. at 8.

         In October 2017, the United States filed the instant motion for restitution. The United States asks the Court to order restitution under the MVRA in the amount of $756, 000 - the full amount of Sergeant Johnson's future lost income - based on the same evidence and expert analysis considered by the Court in its prior restitution opinion. In the alternative, the United States argues that the Court has discretion to award the same amount of restitution under the VWPA. Mr. Williams responds that the MVRA does not apply in this case. As to the VWPA, Mr. Williams argues that the VWPA does not authorize restitution based on future lost income and that even if it did, the Court should decline to award restitution in light of his indigent status.[3]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal courts may order restitution only when statutes authorize restitution. See United States v. Papagno, 639 F.3d 1093, 1096 (D.C. Cir. 2011). As relevant here, two statutes authorize restitution in criminal cases: the Victim and Witness Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3663 (“VWPA”), and the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3663A (“MVRA”).

         Congress enacted the VWPA in 1982, with subsequent amendments over the years. The VWPA authorizes district courts, within their discretion, to order restitution to victims of certain criminal conduct. See 18 U.S.C. § 3663(a)(1)(A) (providing that courts “may order” the defendant to make restitution to any victim of an offense or, if the victim is deceased, to the victim's estate). In determining “whether” to order restitution, the VWPA requires courts to consider the following factors: (1) “the amount of the loss sustained by each victim as a result of the offense”; (2) “the financial resources of the defendant, [and] the financial needs and earning ability of the defendant and the defendant's dependents”; and (3) “such other factors as the court deems appropriate.” See id. § 3663(a)(1)(B)(i). The VWPA also provides that “[t]o the extent that the court determines that the complication and prolongation of the sentencing process resulting from the fashioning of an order of restitution under this section outweighs the need to provide restitution to any victims, the court may decline to make such an order.” Id. § 3663(a)(1)(B)(ii).

         In 1996, Congress enacted the MVRA to make restitution mandatory in a broad range of cases involving crimes of violence and certain property crimes. See United States v. Sizemore, 850 F.3d 821, 825-26 (6th Cir. 2017). In particular, the MVRA requires defendants convicted of certain offenses to pay restitution to the victim, or to the victim's estate, for losses proximately caused by the defendant's criminal conduct. The MVRA provides as follows:

         Notwithstanding any other provision of law, when sentencing a defendant convicted of an offense described in subsection (c), the court shall order, in addition to . . . any other penalty authorized by law, that the defendant make restitution to the victim of the offense or, if the victim is deceased, to the victim's estate. 18 U.S.C. § 3663A(a)(1). Subsection (c), in turn, provides that the MVRA applies only to certain offenses, including any offense that is a “crime of violence” under 18 U.S.C. § 16. See 18 U.S.C. § 3663A(c)(1)(A)(i).

         Restitution orders under both the MVRA and VWPA are issued and enforced in accordance with 18 U.S.C. § 3664. See 18 U.S.C. § 3663A(d) (the MVRA); id. § 3663(d) (the VWPA). Pursuant to Section 3664(e), the United States bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence the amount of loss sustained by the victim. See 18 U.S.C. § 3664(e); United States v. Fair, 699 F.3d 508, 513 (D.C. Cir. 2012); United States v. Emor, 850 F.Supp.2d 176, 201 (D.D.C. 2012). The burden of demonstrating the financial resources of the defendant and the financial needs of the defendant's dependents “shall be on the defendant.” See 18 U.S.C. § 3664(e). In each order of restitution, “the court shall order restitution to each victim in the full amount of each victim's losses as determined by the court and without consideration of the economic circumstances of the defendant.” Id. § 3664(f)(1)(A). After determining the amount of restitution owed, the court must specify the “manner in which, and the schedule according to which, the restitution is to be paid.” Id. § 3664(f)(2).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The instant motion turns on whether involuntary manslaughter under 18 U.S.C. § 1112(a) is a “crime of violence” under 18 U.S.C. § 16(a). If it is, then the MVRA applies and mandates restitution in the full amount of the victim's losses, which the Court previously determined to be $756, 000. See United States v. Williams, 946 F.Supp.2d at 114-15. If the offense is not a crime of violence, then the VWPA applies and the decision to order restitution is left to the Court's discretion.

         A. The MVRA

         The MVRA mandates restitution for any offense that constitutes a “crime of violence” under 18 U.S.C. § 16. See 18 U.S.C. § 3663A(c)(1)(A)(i). In its prior restitution opinion, the Court ordered restitution under the MVRA because second degree murder “undoubtedly is a crime of violence.” See United States v. Williams, 946 F.Supp.2d at 115. As noted, Mr. Williams' second degree murder conviction was reversed on appeal and the restitution order based on that conviction was vacated as a result. Mr. Williams subsequently pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter under 18 U.S.C. § 1112(a). According to the United States, the MVRA continues to apply in this case because involuntary manslaughter under Section 1112(a) is a crime of violence for purposes of Section 16(a). See Mot. at 5-11.[4]

         Section 16(a) defines a “crime of violence” as “an offense that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another.” 18 U.S.C. § 16(a). To determine whether a given offense qualifies as a crime of violence under Section 16(a), courts use a categorical approach and “look to the elements and the nature of the offense of conviction, rather than to the particular facts relating to [the defendant's] crime.” See Leocal v. Ashcroft, 543 U.S. 1, 7 (2004); see also Johnson v. United States, 559 U.S. 133, 140 (2010) (applying the same standard to determine whether an offense is a “crime of violence” under Section 16(a) or a “violent felony” under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B), a provision of the Armed Career Criminal Act); United States v. Haight, 892 F.3d 1271, 1279 (D.C. Cir. 2018) (applying categorical approach to hold that D.C. assault with a dangerous weapon is a “violent felony” under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)). In other words, as Judge (now Justice) Kavanaugh put it in Haight:

[W]e assess the crime categorically, ‘in terms of how the law defines the offense and not in terms of how an individual offender might have committed it on a particular occasion.' If the law defines the crime in such a way that it can be committed using either violent or non-violent force, then the crime is not a violent felony under [the Armed Career Criminal Act], even if the defendant actually used violent force in committing the crime.

United States v. Haight, 892 F.3d at 1279 (internal citation omitted).[5]

         Applying the categorical approach here, the question is whether involuntary manslaughter necessarily involves “the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another.” Involuntary manslaughter is defined in the relevant statute as “the unlawful killing of a human being without malice” that is “[i]n the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony, or in the commission in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection, of a lawful act which might produce death.” See 18 U.S.C. § 1112(a). In this case, the relevant elements of involuntary manslaughter, as stipulated to and agreed upon by the parties in the Statement of Offense supporting the plea agreement, are as follows: (1) Mr. Williams “unlawfully caused the death” of Sergeant Johnson; (2) Mr. Williams “acted ...


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