Schiff Introduces Bill to Ensure Restitution is not Lost Due to a Criminal Defendant's Death

Washington D.C. – Representative Adam Schiff, member of the House Judiciary Committee, today introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation that will ensure victims do not lose their right to restitution when a criminal defendant dies prior to the appeals process.  The Preserving Crime Victims’ Restitution Act (H.R. 6374) was conceived to fix a loophole recently highlighted in former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay’s criminal case.  Under current common law, convictions can be dismissed if a defendant dies before his appeal is final. 

On October 17, U.S. District Judge Sim Lake, of the Southern District of Texas, dismissed the criminal convictions of Enron founder Kenneth Lay in the wake of his death, even after Lay had been found guilty of 10 criminal charges, including securities fraud, wire fraud involving false and misleading statements, bank fraud and conspiracy.

“This is common sense bipartisan legislation that will protect victims’ rights in criminal cases,” Schiff said.  “As a former federal prosecutor, I know firsthand the importance restitution plays in helping to compensate for at least some of the harm suffered by victims of crime.  I’m hopeful we can pass this bill quickly and get it to the President’s desk for his signature before the end of the year.”

H.R. 6374 is cosponsored in the House by Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Tom Feeney (R-FL). Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) who worked in coordination with the Department of Justice.

“This bipartisan bill offers a straightforward mechanism for the Justice Department to use to ensure that hard-won convictions are upheld, even in cases when a defendant dies before the completion of the appeals process,” Senator Feinstein said. “This will protect the restitution rights of the Enron victims and others who have suffered similar crippling financial losses because of corporate malfeasance.”

The Preserving Crime Victims’ Restitution Act would clarify the legal procedures surrounding the death of a criminal defendant before the case has completed the appeals process.  Specifically, the bill would:

  • Establish that, if a defendant dies after being convicted of a federal offense, his conviction will not be vacated.  Instead, the court will be directed to issue a statement stating that the defendant was convicted (either by a guilty plea or a verdict finding him guilty) but then died before his case or appeal was final;
  • Codify the current rule that no further criminal punishments can be imposed on a person who is convicted if he dies before a sentence is imposed or he had an opportunity to appeal his conviction;
  • Clarify that, unlike criminal punishment, all other relief (such as restitution to the victims) that could have been sought against a convicted defendant, can continue to be pursued and collected after the defendant’s death;
  • Establish a process to ensure that after a person dies, a representative of his estate can challenge or appeal his conviction and can secure a lawyer or have one appointed; and
  • Grant the government an additional two years after the defendant’s death to recover assets through a civil forfeiture lawsuit that it had already sought though a similar criminal action.

Congressman Schiff is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and represents California’s 29th Congressional District, which includes the communities of Alhambra, Altadena, Burbank, East Pasadena, East San Gabriel, Glendale, Monterey Park, Pasadena, San Gabriel, South Pasadena and Temple City.