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A defendant who is convicted for committing federal sexual exploitation and child pornography crimes and who pays criminal restitution to the victim can be sued in a civil action by the victim for damages for the same offense (under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2225)

Posted On: July 21, 2016 by Marc Neff

The plaintiff-appellant (“Doe”) was adopted by the defendant-appellee (“Mancuso”) when she was five years old. During the next five years, the Mancuso sexually abused her, photographed and videotaped the acts, and distributed the media in internet chat rooms. He was investigated and eventually arrested. Under a plea agreement, he pled guilty to the charge of sexual exploitation, and the government dismissed the possession of child pornography charge. He also agreed to pay “mandatory restitution” of $200,000 to the plaintiff under the Victim-Witness Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. Secs. 3663, 3663A, and 3664.

Ten years later, the victim (Doe) filed a civil action under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2255 against a purported class of defendants, which included Mancuso, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Mancuso did not respond and the district court entered a default judgment. Mancuso then filed a motion from relief from the judgment and a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. He argued that “Doe’s civil claim against him was barred by her prior receipt of restitution in his criminal case because the sentencing judge intended to fully compensate Doe for both the convicted and dismissed charges…” The District Court agreed, set aside the default judgment in light of Mancuso’s meritorious claim, and granted his motion to dismiss. Doe appealed.

The Third Circuit reversed the District Court’s judgment and found that Sec. 2255 permits a victim to file a civil action for damages after she was compensated by a past restitution order in a criminal case for the same offense. After examining 18 U.S.C. Secs. 2259 and 3664(j)(2), the court concluded that Congress not only contemplated that a victim who had received restitution could later file a civil action, but also provided procedures to do so. The court reversed the dismissal of Doe’s complaint, vacated the setting aside of the default, and remanded.

Collateral estoppel in this case did not prevent Doe from litigating, in a civil action, the issue of her damages based on Mancuso’s crimes. Doe was neither a party to Mancuso’s criminal proceeding nor in privity with a party, and did not have a full and fair opportunity to litigate the question of damages.

For more than twenty-five years, the Law Offices of Marc Neff has been defending the rights of individuals and corporations facing serious criminal charges. Throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and elsewhere, Mr. Neff has successfully defended clients charged with white-collar crimes such as mail fraud and bank fraud, RICO, drug distribution, money laundering, sex crimes and other serious offenses.

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