A victim of a crime is deemed to be entitled to certain rights in the state of California and across the United States. These include the right of a crime victim to reasonably timely restitution for losses sustained as the result of a crime. There are a number of issues involved in the right of a crime victim to receive reasonably timely restitution:

  • Restitution order in a criminal case
  • Property seizure and sale
  • Restitution payments while the defendant is incarcerated
  • Restitution payments while the defendant is on probation
  • Restitution payments while the defendant is on parole or supervised release
  • Civil lawsuit against the perpetrator
  • Crime victim compensation agency or organization

Restitution Order in Criminal Case

The process of ensuring that a victim of crime obtains suitable restitution in a timely manner begins with a restitution order on a criminal case. When a defendant is sentenced in a criminal case, a court typically issues a restitution order.

In advance of a sentencing hearing, an appropriate person associated with the criminal justice system is called upon to prepare what is known as a presentence report. For example, in the federal court system, the U.S. Probation Office prepares a presentence report. The presentence report makes recommendations regarding the type of sentence the criminal defendant should receive in a particular case.

As part of the process of preparing a presentence report, the person assigned to develop the report typically reaches out to the crime victim for input. Part of that input effort is obtaining information from the victim in the case about losses he or she sustained.

Property Seizure and Sale

In some cases, the court will order the seizure of a defendant’s property to be sold. The proceeds from the seizure and sale are provided to the victim or victims to assist in paying back losses sustained by the victim as a result of the defendant’s criminal conduct.

A prime example of a case in which the court seized property as a means of paying back losses sustained by victims is the prosecution of Bernie Madoff. Madoff defrauded investors of over $50 billion in a Ponzi scheme.

Restitution Payments While Defendant Is Incarcerated

As odd as this may sound on first blush, the federal correctional system, the correctional system in California, and most local jails have instituted programs whereby many (usually a majority) of incarcerated individuals are obliged to make some sort of restitution payments while “locked up.” Funds used to pay restitution comes from two primary sources. First, inmates typically are required to participate in work programs while incarcerated. They are paid what fairly can be described as a pittance for these efforts. Despite being small, a percentage of these earnings can be set aside for restitution.

Second, a percentage of inmates also receive deposits onto their inmate accounts from family and friends. These deposits are designed to give inmates some money to make purchases of different types from the canteen or commissary. A percentage of these deposits can also be directed towards paying on a restitution order or balance due.

Admittedly, these are not large amounts of money by any stretch of the imagination. Nonetheless, these payments are something. Moreover, there is a belief that this structure prepares an incarcerated person to address restitution on a more consistent basis once released back into the “real world.”

On the local level (and sometimes on the state level), an incarcerated person is able to participate in a work-release program. In a work-release program, an inmate can leave the correctional facility to work. Income earned in this manner is dedicated in part to pay restitution. It can also be earmarked to pay other obligations that include child support.

There are also community correction programs through which an incarcerated person serves his or her time in a community correctional center or halfway house. A requirement of participation in a community corrections program is maintaining gainful employment and making regular payments to satisfy a restitution obligation.   

Restitution Payments While Defendant Is on Probation

If a criminal defendant is lucky to avoid incarceration altogether, that individual may be placed on probation. If there is a restitution order to benefit the victim of the defendant’s crime, making regular payments towards that financial obligation will be a major element of probation. If a defendant fails to make these required payments, a defendant can face the prospect of having his or her probation revoked, ending up behind bars.

The normal course for probation restitution payments is for the defendant to enter into what is in effect a contract. This contract dictates the amount of a weekly or monthly payment the person on probation needs to make towards a court-ordered restitution obligation.

Restitution Payments While Defendant Is on Parole or Supervised Release

Oftentimes, when an inmate concludes his or her term of incarceration, that individual needs to serve an additional time period on parole. On the federal level, parole technically is known as supervised release.  Quite like the situation with a probationary sentence, a person on parole or supervised release must make regular payments on a restitution obligation. The failure to satisfy this obligation can result in a person ending up back behind bars.

Civil Lawsuit Against Perpetrator

Beyond these governmental avenues designed to ensure that a crime victim receives reasonably timely restitution, a crime victim can also file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator. While the government doesn’t provide legal assistance for such an endeavor, a victim advocate for a prosecutor’s office and other similarly situated individuals do assist a crime victim in making certain he or she has access to documents and other evidence that would support a lawsuit designed to enforce a perpetrator’s restitution obligation.

Crime Victim Compensation Agency or Organization

Understanding that many crime victims do not receive appropriate compensation for their losses from the perpetrator of the crime, many states and counties in the U.S.A. have established programs to assist people in obtaining suitable compensation. The California Victim Compensation Board is an example of such an agency that provides crime victims compensation and other types of financial assistance and other resources. For example, the California Victim Compensation Board provides a crime victim up to $1,000 for crime scene cleanup.