If you are convicted of a crime, you may be required to pay compensation to the victim or be ordered to pay a fine, particularly if a victim was injured or suffered financial loses as a result of your actions. Here’s what you should know about victim restitution and criminal fines and how the two differ.
In crimes where there was a victim who suffered a loss (whether financial, psychological or physical in nature), the court will usually require the person convicted to pay restitution to the victim or the victim’s family as part of their probation. This compensation may include the cost of damaged property, medical bills, lost wages when the victim was unable to work, a victim’s rights attorney, funeral bills, etc. The full amount due for restitution will be determined in a hearing scheduled at the time of the original criminal sentencing.
Prior to the hearing, the prosecutor will speak with the victim regarding their compensation claims and then seek that amount at the hearing. If the prosecutor does not get a hold of the victim, the hearing will be taken off the calendar, but the victim still may come forward with a claim in the future and the defendant will still be responsible for the restitution at that point.
You can contest the amount of restitution claimed by the victim at the hearing, particularly if your defense lawyer has evidence showing the amount should not be so high.
Restitution and Insurance
Compensation will only be paid for expenses the victim was not compensated for through your insurance. So, for example, if a victim of a DUI accident had their vehicle repaired and your insurance covered the repairs, you would only be responsible for any restitution not covered by your insurance.
Victim Compensation in Domestic Violence Cases
If you have been convicted of domestic violence, you must be able to show that restitution payments are being made from your own finances and not through community property that belongs, even in part, to the injured party.
Plea Bargains and Victim Restitution
In many cases that end in plea bargains, the defendant’s attorney will negotiate to have some of the charges dropped. While you may not face any criminal penalties for these dropped charges, as part of the plea agreement, you may still have to pay restitution to the victim for them.
Enforcement of Victim Compensation
Restitution can be enforced by the prosecution or the victim. If someone fails to pay the full amount, the victim can hire a lawyer, go to a civil court and take steps to collect the restitution that was ordered by the criminal court. Once the criminal court orders an amount after a hearing, the defendant cannot dispute that amount if the victim only seeks to enforce the criminal restitution amount.
Most crimes carry mandatory fines or have a fine schedule a judge may choose to impose. The financial penalty is divided into many different programs, with some of the money going back into the court system, some going to correctional officer training, some going into police officer training, some going to the state’s Victim’s Compensation Fund and the rest going to a variety of other programs.
While judges sometimes have some discretion in how high they set the funds, in general, at least some portion of the amount they determine will go to each of those programs. It does not matter whether or not you actually victimized anyone through your crime (for example, if you were charged with the “victimless crime” of drug possession), money from your fine will still go to the California Victim’s Compensation Fund. This fund is a state-sponsored program that provides assistance to victims of violent crimes and their families so they can cover things such as medical and funeral expenses. The Victim’s Fund is separate from restitution and you may be ordered to pay both as part of your sentence.
Probation and Victim Restitution/Court Fines
Because restitution can be expensive, it is often divided into multiple payments that must be made throughout the length of your probation. If you are ordered to pay restitution to the victim and/or fines as part of your probation agreement, you must pay these in full in order to complete the probation or risk violating your probation.
It is worth noting that you will not be violating your probation if you genuinely cannot afford to pay the restitution. If you cannot pay, the court will hold an ability to pay hearing and then your payment plan may be adjusted accordingly, which may result in your probation period being extended or your court fines being reduced.
If you have any questions about victim restitution, court fines or the Victim’s Compensation Fund and how these might affect your criminal case, please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to speak with attorney Peter M. Liss.