The Colorado Supreme Court In Denver

The Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center in downtown Denver, home of the Colorado Supreme Court.

After two appellate panels this year arrived at slightly different interpretations of Colorado’s criminal restitution law, the state Supreme Court will now decide the proper standard for judges to exceed the legal deadline for ordering a defendant to pay restitution.

By law, a court has 91 days after a defendant’s conviction to order the amount of monetary restitution he must pay, except if “good cause is shown” for lengthening that deadline. In an announcement on Monday, the Supreme Court indicated it will consider the contours of the good cause provision.

In the case of Benjamin Weeks, a jury convicted him of aggravated robbery and menacing. Prosecutors in Garfield County asked for a restitution amount of $524.19. However, they requested in February 2018 that the judge avoid a final determination until the end of the 91-day period in case they learned of additional losses from the robbery.

For 7½ months, the matter remained open. Finally, in December 2018, Weeks argued the trial court no longer could legally impose restitution because the deadline had long passed. Chief Judge James B. Boyd sided against Weeks, ordering the same restitution amount requested in the beginning of the year. 

“Defendant is correct the Court has not uttered the term ‘good cause’ to extend the time for restitution beyond 91 days,” Boyd conceded. “However, the Court concludes the Court’s briefing and hearing procedure created at the time of sentencing necessarily and implicitly established good cause for restitution to be determined beyond the 91-day period.”’

A majority on the three-member panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals overturned Boyd’s decision in March of this year, disagreeing that the 91-day window was for prosecutors to determine the appropriate amount, and not for the judge to order it.

“Significantly, there is no dispute that the trial court possessed sufficient information to fix the amount of restitution at $524.19 before the deadline,” wrote Judge Lino S. Lipinsky de Orlov in the panel’s opinion. “The trial court’s ruling did not explain, and the record does not show, what good cause, if any, existed for that inordinate delay.”

The majority also noted that the prosecution merely requesting an extension was not itself good enough cause to honor the request.

Judge Michael H. Berger, dissenting, cited “crushing caseloads” in courts and the “absurd result” from prohibiting restitution rulings beyond the deadline without explicit good cause.

[T]he legislature could not have intended that no restitution would enter if no decision issued in ninety-one days,” Berger insisted.

Just last week, a separate Court of Appeals panel upheld a restitution order issued 99 days after a defendant’s plea agreement and sentencing. Drawing a contrast between the one-week delay and Week’s seven months without action, the panel decided that a court only show good cause for extending the deadline, and not explicitly rule that good cause exists — relaxing the finding in the Weeks decision.

“Our reading of this provision is where we depart from Weeks and determine that a showing may be implied,” wrote Judge Sueanna P. Johnson.

The Supreme Court in Weeks’s case will decide whether good cause must exist for a court to order restitution outside the 91-day window, and also whether the appellate panel correctly decided that the mere request of prosecutors for more time failed to qualify as good cause.

The case is People v. Weeks.

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