gavel court justice colorado

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit on Thursday vacated the conviction of a man accused of fraud under the doctrine that criminal defendants who die during their appeal are entitled to dismissal of their case.

A jury convicted Daniel Dirk Coddington on charges of wire fraud and securities fraud, and he received a 10-year prison sentence and an order to pay an $18 million restitution. He died while appealing his conviction. The U.S. government conceded that if Coddington had his conviction vacated, the restitution would be nullified as well.

Consequently, the government argued for an exemption to the doctrine of abatement ab initio, saying that in cases where “there is a restitution order against the defendant, and the United States opposes abatement, the Court should allow the appeal to proceed.”

Prosecutors relied on a provision of federal law which mandates that “In the event of the death of the person ordered to pay restitution, the individual's estate will be held responsible for any unpaid balance of the restitution amount… .”

But Judge Scott M. Matheson, Jr., relying on the precedent of the 1992 United States v. Davis case, did not accept that reasoning.

“[T]he estate’s responsibility under the statute presupposes a conviction, but under Davis, Mr. Coddington’s convictions must be vacated,” Matheson wrote for the three-judge panel.

The case was United States of America v. Daniel Dirk Coddington.

The doctrine of abatement ab initio came into existence with the realization that a conviction is not final until a defendant has had the chance to appeal. Last year the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned their doctrines of abatement, finding that the concept is outdated and can have a “detrimental impact on victims both emotionally and financially.”

However, the Tennessee court instructed lower-court judges to evaluate each case in this category on its merits.

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