What Is Victim Restitution?
When a person is convicted of a crime, their penalties may include victim restitution. Restitution is repayment of the money a victim lost or had to spend because of a crime, which is why judges often include restitution as a part of a convicted offenders’ sentence. Generally, restitution only covers the victim’s financial losses and not their non-financial losses.
Examples of losses covered by victim restitution include:
- Lost, stolen, or damaged property
- Medical, dental, or counseling expenses
- Lost wages because of an injury
- Moving or security expenses
- Lost wages for the time spent helping the police or prosecution
- Legal fees related to collecting restitution
However, convicted offenders may end up paying for the victim’s non-financial losses, such as their ongoing pain and suffering. A judge is not allowed to order restitution for non-financial losses, but victims may claim restitution for treatment costs. A victim may not, however, claim restitution if a defendant is found not guilty or their case is dismissed.
So, what happens if an offender refuses to pay restitution? Before imposing penalties for refusal, a judge may give the offender a chance to prove they paid restitution or give a valid reason for not paying it. If an offender is unable to do either of these two things, the court may do one of the following:
- Send the offender to the county jail for violating a condition of probation
- Order the offender’s employer to take out a percentage of their paychecks to send to the victim
- Order that restitution be paid from the offender’s assets, if any
And if you’re wondering, filing for bankruptcy does not discharge a restitution order under any circumstances in California. An offender will still be responsible for paying restitution.
Probation officers, parole officers, and criminal courts have other “tricks up their sleeves” to get an offender to pay restitution to a victim. When an offender is not making payments, typically because they cannot pay it all upfront, officials may intervene and utilize one or more of the following solutions:
- Counseling: A probation or parole officer may sit down with the offender and discuss the consequences of not paying.
- Getting financial information: The probation department can help victims obtain the offender’s income and asset information to learn if they can afford to pay restitution or not. If the offender isn’t making enough money to afford restitution, the victim may wait until they get a job post-release. If the offender gets a job but still doesn’t pay restitution, the victim may ask the court for an income deduction order, which brings us to our next point.
- Income deduction: If the offender isn’t making payments despite having the ability to do so, a judge may order an income deduction, which withholds a portion of the offender’s wages to make direct payments to the victim.
- Unfreezing assets: Before sentencing, a judge may order an offender’s assets, such as property or bank accounts, to get “frozen.” If an offender doesn’t pay restitution, a judge can “unfreeze” their assets to pay the required amount.
- Debtor’s examination: An offender may be required to appear in court once a year to discuss their income and assets, which is called a debtor’s examination. This helps victims learn if the offender has new assets or income that can cover their restitution. If the offender fails to appear for the debtor’s exam, a judge may issue a bench warrant to get them arrested and brought to court.
- Liens: A lien is a legal claim that prevents a property owner from selling or refinancing a property without first paying victim restitution. As such, an offender may get a lien on their home, business, or other property.
- Levies: Levies essentially “take” someone’s property or assets to help pay off what they owe. A levy could be placed on an offender’s bank account, real estate, or even bail money.
- Collection agencies: Another path victims could take is hiring a collection agency to collect the unpaid restitution from the offender.
Are You Behind on Restitution?
It is common for convicted offenders to take some time to pay restitution, as these amounts could be hundreds or thousands of dollars, if not more. Unfortunately, the courts may have no mercy on your financial situation and impose penalties such as jail time, income deduction, liens, and more. As you can see from the list above, these consequences are harsh.
But you’re not alone. Our lawyers can evaluate your situation to learn if you have any available options to ease your burdens. Whether they be an extension on payment deadlines, a withhold on income deduction, or alternatives to targeting your hard-earned assets, we will explore the best possible solutions to your situation.