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11th Cir. Affirms Restitution for Minor Sexual Abuse Victim

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on May 18, 2015 3:55 PM

Over the course of a few years, a high school student named J.S. began having a sexual relationship with his teacher, Thomas Keelan. Suspecting an inappropriate relationship, J.S.'s parents enrolled him in a treatment program. After completing the program, J.S. decided to cooperate with law enforcement.

J.S. made a wiretapped phone call to Keelan, who then drove down to Florida to have sex. Guess what? Busted!

A Crime of Violence

On appeal, Keelan challenged the trial court's restitution order requiring him to pay for J.S.'s therapy and counseling. The magistrate judge found that Keelan committed a crime of violence that resulted in bodily injury, and that restitution was appropriate for the mental harm, which Keenan proximately caused.

For one thing, he said, "knowingly persuading, inducing, enticing, or coercing a minor to engage in sexual activity, is not a crime of violence." This was an issue of first impression for the Eleventh Circuit, which applies the "categorical approach" to determining whether a crime qualifies as a "crime of violence."

This approach asks whether, under the "elements and nature of the offense" rather than the facts of the specific cause, the crime would ordinarily present a risk of violence. In this case, the court said, Keelan's crime would, as "[i]n cases involving sex crimes against minors, ... there is always a substantial risk that physical force will be used to ensure a child's compliance with an adult's sexual demands."

Restitution Is Appropriate

Even if that were true, Keelan further argued, there was an insufficient nexus between J.S.'s bodily injuries and his mental health injuries. The Mandatory Victims Restitution Act permits restitution only for physical injuries, not mental ones, J.S. argued.

The problem is -- well, that's not true at all. By its express terms, the MVRA requires defendants to pay costs for "physical, psychiatric, and psychological care, including non-medical care and treatment."

Finally, the court said, Keelan was also wrong when he claimed his actions weren't the proximate cause of J.S.'s mental health problems "because J.S. suffered from several psychological problems prior to Keelan's sexual abuse." Even if that were true (which it is), the court emphasized that Keelan's abuse didn't have to be the sole cause of the over $100,000 in medical bills stemming from mental health services. It was, at least, a large factor: "J.S.'s mental well-being, according to his own trial testimony, deteriorated precipitously after Keelan sexually exploited him."

So, yes, the MVRA explicitly applies to mental health restitution. And under the categorical approach, coercing a minor to commit sexual activity qualifies as a "crime of violence."

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