Federal Courts:

Differences Exist in Ordering Fines and Restitution

T-GGD-99-95: Published: May 6, 1999. Publicly Released: May 6, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on federal courts and the differences that exist in ordering fines and restitution, focusing on: (1) the percentages of those offenders who were ordered to pay fines and restitution in fiscal year (FY) 1997 and those who were not; (2) differences across judicial circuits and districts in the percentages of those offenders who were ordered to pay fines or restitution and those who were not; and (3) officials' opinions about possible reasons for these differences.

GAO noted that: (1) although offender characteristics, type of offense, and the nature of the sentence played a role, the judicial circuit or district where an offender was sentenced was a major factor in determining the likelihood of an offender's being ordered to pay a fine or restitution during FY 1997; (2) this variation among judicial circuits and districts occurred overall for all federal offenders sentenced under sentencing guidelines during that year; (3) although occurring less, this variation persisted when GAO performed multivariate statistical analyses for federal offenders sentenced under sentencing guidelines for four types of offenses; (4) the large statistical variation among circuits and districts raises a question, on a broad level, about whether the goal of uniformity in the imposition of fines and restitution is being met; (5) under current conditions, offenders could be much more likely in some jurisdictions than in others to be ordered to pay a fine or restitution for the same type of crime; (6) although the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act was intended to eliminate much of the discretion judges previously had in waiving restitution for certain types of crimes, the overall percentages of offenders ordered to pay restitution has declined; (7) of the three offenses GAO analyzed, the percentages of robbery offenders ordered to pay restitution increased, while the percentages of larceny and fraud offenders decreased; and (8) however, there may be mitigating circumstances, such as recovery of stolen money that help explain why restitution was not ordered in a particular case.

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