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United States v. Madison

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 20, 2018



          Joy Flowers Conti Chief United States District Judge

         Defendant Jalen Madison (“Madison”) pleaded guilty to a heroin and fentanyl conspiracy. Pursuant to the plea agreement, ¶ A(2), he agreed to "pay restitution under the Victim-Witness Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3663, 3663A and 3664, to the victims and/or other persons or parties authorized by law in such amounts, at such times, and according to such terms as the Court shall direct.” In the plea agreement, Madison accepted responsibility for distributing the drugs that caused the death of John Brooks Watkins. Madison was sentenced on February 22, 2018. At the request of the parties, the court deferred ruling on restitution pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3664(d)(5).

         On March 19, 2018, the court held an evidentiary hearing regarding restitution. The government presented a witness and government exhibits G-1 to G-8 were admitted into evidence without objection. The parties filed post-hearing briefs and the restitution issue is now ripe for disposition.

         Legal Analysis

         Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §3663(a)(1)(A), when sentencing a defendant convicted of a drug offense, the court may order “that the defendant make restitution to any victim of such offense, or if the victim is deceased, to the victim's estate.” The statute provides: “The court may also order, if agreed to by the parties in a plea agreement, restitution to persons other than the victim of the offense.” Id. The statute defines the term “victim” as a “person directly and proximately harmed as a result of the commission of an offense for which restitution may be ordered including, in the case of an offense that involves as an element a scheme, conspiracy, or pattern of criminal activity, any person directly harmed by the defendant's criminal conduct in the course of the scheme, conspiracy, or pattern.” § 3663(a)(2). If the victim is deceased, the legal guardian of the victim's estate or another family member “may assume the victim's rights under this section.” § 3663(a)(2). If the offense results in bodily injury to the victim, the court's restitution order shall “reimburse the victim for income lost by such victim as a result of such offense.” 18 U.S.C. § 3663A(b)(2)(C). If the offense results in the death of an identifiable victim, the court's restitution order shall require the defendant to “pay an amount equal to the cost of necessary funeral and related services.” § 3663A(b)(3).

         Disputes about the proper amount or type of restitution shall be resolved by the court by a preponderance of the evidence. 18 U.S.C. § 3664(e). The burden to demonstrate the amount of the victim's loss is on the government. Id. The court shall order restitution “in the full amount of each victim's losses as determined by the court and without consideration of the economic circumstances of the defendant.” § 3664(f)(1)(A). The defendant's financial condition may be considered, however, in determining the method of payment. § 3664(f)(3).

         There is no Third Circuit precedent directly on point and little guidance from other circuits regarding the scope of the restitution obligation in this matter. Several overarching principles can be discerned from decisions in other districts. The term “related services” should be construed to include services which are connected with the funeral itself, not services more broadly associated with the victim's death. United States v. Harwood, 854 F.Supp.2d 1035, 1061 (D.N.M. 2012). The relationship should involve a “common purpose-such as commemorating the life of the victim or addressing the spiritual salvation of the deceased-or temporally, such that the connection between the two events is obvious.” Id. Restitution should reflect the expenses actually paid, rather than estimates or averages. See United States v. McCloskey, No. 3:14-CR-30001-01-02, 2015 WL 789305, at *1 (D.S.D. Feb. 24, 2015) (victim's father provided estimates and the government provided average funeral costs, but the court awarded a lower restitution amount because there was no testimony to justify a higher amount). The restitution amount should be reasonable. See In re Paris Air Crash of Mar. 3, 1974, 423 F.Supp. 367, 373 (C.D. Cal. 1976) (instructing the jury to determine the “reasonable sum for funeral expenses as are consistent with the station in life of the decedent”); In re Cullen's Estate, 8 Pa. Super. 494, 498-99 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1898) (reducing amount claimed by estate for an elaborate funeral and awarding only funeral expenses “as will bear a just, fair and reasonable proportion to the amount of the estate of the decedent and his or her station in life”).

         In a somewhat analogous situation, the IRS offers guidance on what funeral expenses are allowed as deductions from a decedent's estate. The deduction includes sums reasonably and actually expended for a tombstone, monument, or mausoleum, or for a burial lot, including a reasonable expenditure for its future care, and the cost of bringing the body to the place of burial. 26 C.F.R. § 20.2053-2. IRS examiners were instructed to accept any reasonable judgment made in good faith by the executor or administrator as to what was considered necessary for the estate at the time of incurring the expense. Edward Jay Beckwith and Turney P. Berry, Tax Mgmt. (BNA) Portfolio 840-3rd: Estate Tax Deductions- Sections 2053, 2054 and 2058, Detailed Analysis, B. Funeral Expenses at 4 (citing Examination Technique Handbook for Estate Tax Examiners, IRM [4350] § 16(44) (12-16-87), available at, (last visited April 20, 2018). Pennsylvania similarly allows itemized funeral expenses, including but not limited to opening of graves, services of mortician, embalming and transportation, casket, flowers, fee for religious service, funeral refreshments, the cost of a burial lot or other resting place, and purchase and erection of a marker, gravestone or monument on decedent's final resting place., Instructions for REV-1511 Schedule H.

         Application to this case

         The plea agreement confers substantial discretion to the court to determine both the recipients and amount of restitution. The claimed expenses are well-documented and were actually incurred by the family. The government forthrightly “self-audited” expenses lacking proper documentation. The court must assess the reasonableness of each expenditure. The government, on behalf of the victim's estate and family members, seeks restitution for the following items: (1) automobile gasoline used by the victim's grandmother to make funeral arrangements ($73.04); (2) flowers ($630.70); (3) funeral clothes for family members ($909.26); (4) hotel bills for family members ($1, 309.84); (5) a memorial luncheon for 250 people, plus tip ($5, 900.00); (6) the funeral home ($8, 110.00); (7) interment ($4, 340.00); (8) the victim's lost earnings ($1, 200, 000.00 or $393, 177.60); (9) hotel bills for family members ($762.91); (10) hotel bills for family members ($448.96); and (11) hotel bills for family members ($265.98). The government affirmatively represented that expenses submitted by family members for unknown purchases at Walmart, costs associated with selling the victim's car and a second memorial luncheon were not “necessary” or “related to” the funeral and were not recoverable.

         Madison stipulated to the recovery of claimed restitution amounts for flowers, the funeral home and interment, a total of $13, 080.70. Madison objected to all other restitution claims. The court will individually address them.

         1. Gasoline bills

         The gasoline used to make funeral arrangements is reasonably related to victim's death. The victim's grandmother would not have incurred that expense but for his death. Although it may be excessive to use almost two full tanks of gas to make funeral arrangements instead of using the telephone or internet, defendant did not articulate a specific objection to this claim. The ...

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