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What is Restitution? 

Posted in Criminal Defense on April 11, 2022

When a judge sentences a defendant in a criminal case, you may hear the term “restitution” tossed around as part of the penalty phase of the case. Restitution is money paid to crime victims to compensate them for their losses. It is quite common for defendants to be required to pay restitution to help make their victims financially whole again in the wake of a guilty plea or verdict. Sometimes, a plea agreement comes with the contingency that the defendant pays restitution to the victim(s) of his/her crime. 

Restitution in California Criminal Cases

In California, sentencing courts have the authority to order two types of restitution to be paid by the defendant adjudged guilty or entering into a plea agreement in a criminal case. This includes a direct order to pay restitution to the victim and restitution fines, which are paid as a “debt to society” for the convicted offender’s criminal behavior. 

A direct order of restitution is required by the California Penal Code in the full amount of the crime victim’s loss. Some examples of losses that may be included in a direct order include:

  • Payment for the full or partial value of property stolen or damaged by the offender. 
  • Medical expenses incurred by the victim due to the criminal activity or behavior of the victim. 
  • The victim’s mental health counseling or therapy expenses. 
  • The victim’s lost wages or profits incurred because of the offender’s criminal activity or behavior. 
  • The cost of installing or increasing the level of security required by the victim in relation to the offense committed. 
  • Attorneys’ fees incurred by the victim.
  • The cost of accommodations to the victim’s residence if the victim is left with a permanent disability as a result of the crime. 
  • For Section 288 felony violators (child molestation), the court may assess noneconomic losses, including restitution for the psychological harm experienced by the victim. 

California’s courts are also required to impose restitution fines, irrespective of any sentence imposed or the crime in question. The court has discretionary power to establish the fine it sees as just. However, offenders sentenced to serve time in state prison in California must be assessed a restitution fine of at least $300 and no more than $10,000. If an offender violates parole and is returned to jail, a special restitution fine is assessed. 

How is Restitution Collected in the State of California?

The collection of restitution can commence as soon as an offender enters the corrections system. At that time, a trust account is created for the offender. This account accepts deposits from the offenders or others who choose to send money to the offender. It also holds any wages that the offender earns during incarceration. Any funds that are routed to the offender’s trust account are garnished at a rate of 50 percent and delivered to the victim in $50 increments. 

Since inmates typically earn from 38 cents to $1 per hour, it can take time for victims to receive restitution while the offender is behind bars. However, collection of restitution continues if the offender is granted parole, usually with a stipulation that the offender pays a specific amount of restitution per month. 

Reach out to the legal team at Graham Donath Law Offices, APC, for assistance with your criminal case. Our Riverside criminal defense attorney is ready to help you get your life back on track.