After being charged with a crime, you may be ordered to pay restitution. Restitution pays back the victim for the offense and is usually ordered in cases involving property damage, theft, or injury that led to medical expenses. Whenever you are ordered to pay restitution, this becomes part of the penalties of the offense and is often set as a term of probation or parole. Failing to pay restitution is similar to failing to pay fines and can lead to serious legal issues. The Ventura, CA criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth explain.
What is Restitution in a Criminal Case
Restitution is a series of payments the court orders for a defendant to pay back a victim for the harm they suffered during the crime. In many cases involving destruction or loss of property, such as theft offenses, restitution will equal the value of the item that was destroyed or stolen. Even if the item can be returned or it was only partially damaged, restitution can often be ordered as the full value of the property. In cases involving personal injury, such as assault, judges usually order restitution equaling the cost of medical expenses the victim faced. These payments are ordered on top of any fines and court costs you face.
Restitution is used as an attempt to make the victim “whole” again after an injury or property loss. Often, victims who suffered serious damages may sue the defendant separately in civil court to seek damages for physical injuries, property damage, lost wages, and pain and suffering. In many cases where the criminal court orders restitution, the victim is satisfied and does not seek additional damages in court. Especially in cases of property damage, restitution is usually sufficient to satisfy the victim and repay them for any harm done. Cases without restitution might lead a victim to sue you separately for damages.
Penalties for Willfully Not Paying Restitution in California
When a judge orders restitution, they typically try to set restitution so that it can be paid over time. Judges will typically coordinate fines and restitution so that they are a fair penalty. This means that judges will not typically order fines that are outright impossible to pay back. However, paying criminal fines may require being put on a payment plan that will take multiple years to satisfy all costs.
Judges do not have as much power to control restitution since restitution must cover the full value of whatever damage was done. This means restitution may ultimately be one of the most expensive parts of your penalties.
Your payment plan may include options for the government to enforce the fines and restitution if you fail to pay. This could include consequences like wage garnishment, where the government will automatically take a cut of your paycheck to put toward payments. The court may also be able to order a lien on your property, which means they could seize your house, your car, or other property and sell it to pay your restitution.
In most cases, restitution is ordered as part of probation or another form of supervision. This means that failing to pay will be considered a probation violation. Any time you fail to do something required as part of the terms of your probation, you could be re-arrested and ordered to a probation violation hearing.
Any probation violation can lead to complete revocation of your probation. Even slight or technical violations can revoke your probation, and failing to pay restitution is often considered a more serious violation that is more likely to lead to complete probation revocation. Even if paying restitution is not a direct requirement for your probation, you may be required to maintain employment. Quitting your job so that you have no income to put toward restitution or wage garnishment may be just as serious as intentionally failing to pay.
If your probation is revoked, you will be sent straight to jail and have the original sentence carried out.
What if I Can’t Afford Restitution?
Intentionally not paying restitution because you think it is too high or you do not want to pay is one issue, but not being able to afford the payments are another problem. In many cases, defendants face much higher restitution than they would like, but it is still technically possible to pay. However, high payments could mean putting a large percentage of your paycheck toward restitution, leaving no money to support yourself and your family.
In cases involving wage garnishment, the court will be limited in how much of your paycheck they can collect each month for wage garnishment. This may ultimately leave you with reasonable funds that permit you to live while still fulfilling your duty to pay restitution.
Any time restitution is ordered, you should work with an attorney. A criminal lawyer can help ensure that restitution is not set unfairly high in the first place. Your lawyer can help manage your case and guide you through what to do if you cannot pay restitution.
Ventura Criminal Defense Attorneys Offering Free Consultations
If you or a loved one committed a crime that may include restitution as a punishment, talk to an attorney immediately. It is important to ensure that your rights are protected throughout the criminal process. To schedule a free consultation with the Ventura criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth, call us today at (805) 585-5056.