What Is Restitution and What Does It Mean for Crime Victims?

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What is Restitution?

Put simply, restitution is payment for an injury or loss. In a criminal case, a perpetrator of a crime may be ordered to pay restitution to a victim when his or her crime causes the victim a financial loss. This is different than a court-imposed fine, in that fines are paid to the government to deter future criminal behavior. 

Examples of restitution might include a shoplifter who is ordered to repay a store owner for the cost of a stolen item, or an assailant who must pay for their victim’s medical expenses after a violent assault. In homicide cases, restitution can even cover funeral costs. Victims also may be compensated for lost wages and out of pocket expenses, such as restoring credit history after an identity theft.

What Does Restitution Mean For Crime Victims?

All states have laws requiring convicted defendants to pay restitution, the purpose of which is to make victims whole or on par with where they were financially before the crime and to make offenders directly accountable to the people they harm. For these reasons, judges must consider restitution, or partial restitution, as part of any sentence or plea bargain.

Direct victims may be individuals, corporations or other entities, while indirect victims may be eligible for restitution on behalf of a loved one. For instance, the survivors of someone killed in a robbery. Third parties, such as government agencies or victim compensation programs, are eligible to receive restitution funds as repayment for financially supporting victims of crime. Insurance companies can also be eligible third parties.

A judge may impose a restitution cash award on a criminal defendant, but how it is collected varies by state. Collection also depends on the offender’s ability to pay, and as a result, victims can wait years before receiving payment. Many victims never receive the full amount. Restitution payments, however, can be made a condition of probation or parole, and in such cases victims should may be instructed to speak with the perpetrator’s probation or parole officer when payments are not made.

If you or someone you know has questions about restitution law, or needs help in recovering restitution funds, do not wait to contact an experienced attorney and learn more about your rights. Remember, we are your local, community law firm you may schedule a free case evaluation with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.