Hughey v. United States
495 U.S. 411 (1990)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Hughey v. United States, 495 U.S. 411 (1990)

Hughey v. United States

No. 89-5691

Argued March 27, 1990

Decided May 21, 1990

495 U.S. 411

Syllabus

Pursuant to a plea agreement, petitioner Hughey pleaded guilty to using one unauthorized MBank credit card. Under the restitution provisions of the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982 (VWPA) which authorize federal courts to order "a defendant convicted of an offense" to "make restitution to any victim of such offense," 18 U.S.C. § 3579(a)(1) (1982 ed., Supp. 4) -- the District Court ordered Hughey to pay $90,431 in restitution, the total of MBank's losses relating to his alleged theft and use of 21 cards from various MBank cardholders. Denying Hughey's motion to reduce and correct his sentence, the court rejected his argument that it had exceeded its authority in ordering restitution for offenses other than the offense of conviction. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: A VWPA restitution award is authorized only for the loss caused by the specific conduct that is the basis of the offense of conviction. Pp. 495 U. S. 415-422.

(a) VWPA's plain language clearly links restitution to the offense of conviction. Given that the ordinary meaning of "restitution" is restoring someone to a position he occupied before a particular event, § 3579's repeated focus on the offense of conviction suggests strongly that restitution is intended to compensate victims only for losses caused by the conduct underlying the offense of conviction. The Government's view that § 3579(a) merely identifies the victim, but that the restitution amount is calculated in accordance with § 3580(a) -- which delineates "[p]rocedure[s] for issuing" restitution orders -- is unconvincing. Section 3579(b), by giving detailed substantive guidance regarding the calculation of restitution, establishes the amount of restitution that courts can award. In addition, to regard § 3580 rather than § 3579 as fixing the substantive boundaries of such orders would ignore this Court's commitment to "giving effect to the meaning and placement of the words chosen by Congress." Adams Fruit Co. v. Barrett,494 U. S. 638, 494 U. S. 645. More significantly, because a general statutory term should be understood in light of the specific terms that surround it, § 3580(a)'s catchall phrase -- which directs courts to consider "such other factors as the court deems appropriate" in calculating the amount of restitution -- should not be read to introduce into the calculus losses that would

Page 495 U. S. 412

expand a defendant's liability beyond the offense of conviction. That phrase is preceded by more specific considerations for determining whether to order, and the amount of, restitution, all of which are designed to limit, rather than to expand, the scope of any restitution order. Pp. 495 U. S. 415-420.

(b) Any policy questions surrounding VWPA's offense-of-conviction limitation on restitution orders need not be resolved. Even were the statutory language ambiguous, longstanding principles of lenity preclude the resolution of the ambiguity against Hughey on the basis of general declarations of policy in the statute and legislative history. Pp. 495 U. S. 420-422.

877 F.2d 1256 (CA5 1989), reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BRENNAN, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined, and in which WHITE and KENNEDY, JJ., joined except as to Part 495 U. S.

Official Supreme Court caselaw is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia caselaw is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.