Victim Restitution Requirements for Criminal Defendants

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Victim Restitution Requirement for Criminal Defendants

Many state laws require criminal defendants to pay restitution to their victims and/or to the state for harm directly caused by the defendant’s crimes. Such laws are generally enacted to provide compensation for a broad array of costs resulting from crimes such as fraud, personal injury, death or property damage. When determining costs, courts often consider victim expenses resulting from, among others, the inability to be gainfully employed; physical and/or psychological rehabilitation; and burial expenses. Sometimes, where feasible, defendants may be ordered to return property.

Due to significant variation among state laws regarding restitution and fines, few generalizations can be made. However, courts typically have broad discretion in what types of expenses or losses may be reimbursed. In addition, courts often have the discretion to determine the method the defendant must use in making the payments; e.g., whether periodic installments are preferable to a lump sum payment.

Compensation to the State

Although some states have victim compensation boards which generally serve to compensate victims of crimes, such state entities often attempt to recover restitution expenses directly from convicted criminals.�This typically occurs where the compensation board has previously remitted payment to the victim for losses resulting from the crime and subsequently seeks reimbursement.

Determining Victim Identify When Paying Restitution

Where the court orders the defendant to pay restitution directly to the victim, interpretation of the applicable state statute may be an issue as to who qualifies as a victim. In turn, this will affect the potential extent of liability the defendant faces. For instance, in Arizona “anyone who suffered a loss” resulting from the defendant’s crime may recover restitution from the defendant. However, in Vermont, only the “victim” of the crime may recover; Vermont limits its definition of “victim” by listing specific types of harm. New Jersey’s statute includes the “nearest relative of the victim of a criminal homicide.”

Legal Consequences for Defendants Facing Restitution Orders

Depending on the applicable state laws and statutes, orders to pay restitution can have many different types of consequences for the defendant. The following is a short list of some of the more notable issues defendants might face:

  • Funds received by the defendant, such as an inheritance, may be used toward an order for restitution while the convict is incarcerated
  • In order to satisfy the order’s obligations, funds may be deducted from a work release program or from compensation earned for labors at the institution
  • Similar to a wage garnishment order, income reduction orders require any individual who has income due or payable to the defendant to make payments to meet the defendant’s obligations, in lieu of paying the defendant
  • The amount of a restitution order may be set off against subsequent independent civil recoveries
  • Restitution obligations are generally not dischargeable in bankruptcy

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