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Victim Restitution in California Criminal Cases


In Los Angeles, a big hot bed issue is when somebody pleads guilty to a crime, what their restitution is going to be.  How much is it going to be?  What if they don’t have the means to pay the restitution in a criminal case.

This is a big issue that comes up all the time and a lot of times people don’t want to plead guilty because they’re claiming that the restitution that the prosecutors or the alleged victim are trying to make them pay I not the right amount or that they shouldn’t have to pay any restitution at all.

Why is Restitution Ordered By The Court?

So, you really have to understand, number one, why restitution is ordered in the first place, and then also you’re going to have to understand how far the legislature, the prosecutors and the judges will go to make sure that the victim of a crime is going to be properly reimbursed for any money out of their pocket and that’s really what the courts are looking at — how much money did the victim lose related to the case based upon the actions of a particular defendant.Victim Restitution in California Criminal Cases

Sometimes that can be a lot of money.  When the rubber meets the road, what it boils down to is, somebody commits crime against another person.  That person is either found guilty or pleads guilty or no-contest, they’re now going to be responsible for any money owing to the victim based on what the person did to them.

So, as you might guess, disputes spring up all the time in this body of law.  As a defense attorney, I’ve done a lot of research on it and I’ve done a lot of hearings.  What ends of happening is, in order to take a deal on a criminal case if restitution is involved, the prosecutors make the defendant admit that they’re liable for the restitution and a lot of times they will pinpoint exactly what the restitution is before the person pleads and the defendant will stipulate to that amount and that’s the amount they’re going to have to pay.

They may have to pay it over the course of time.  Sometimes they have to pay it up front.  It just depends on what’s negotiated between the criminal defense attorney and the prosecutor, and obviously what the judge agrees so.

Restitution Hearing

But, a lot of times, once a person pleads, it’s just agreed that they have to pay restitution and they have to admit liability but they can’t determine what the restitution is yet.  Then all of a sudden, they set the case for a restitution hearing or a restitution hearing setting in one of the downtown Los Angeles courts and you go in there and the alleged victim is claiming some astronomical amount.

So, then the question becomes, what do you di in that scenario?  Why should the defendant have to pay that if it’s a questionable amount?

The answer is, the defendant is entitled to hearing related to the amount of restitution and the alleged victim is going to have to bring in proof that they are actually out a certain amount.  So, on the good end you’re able to challenge that.

The defendant attorney can ask questions and challenge how much money is being claimed.  If the money is really not out of the victim’s pocket,, then a lot of time the judge is not going to allow them to collect some nebulous sum.  For example, for pain and suffering if they were injured in a case, that’s something you have to collect through a civil lawsuit.

But, on the flip side of that, if the person can actually show money that they had to spend or that they lost as a result of the defendant’s action, I would say most of the time the judge is going to award that money to them and that the law supports victims getting money back and it really has a broad/wide scope under what circumstances somebody can actually get money back, restitution-wise, in a criminal case.

You would be astounded at some of the judgments that are awarded against defendants in criminal cases and it’s because if the person is a victim, the prosecutors and judges feel it’s their job to get them compensated — get them made whole — after the crime was committed against them and they’ve usually got the law backing them when it comes to these criminal restitution decisions.

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About the Author

Named Top Los Angeles Criminal Attorney by LA Times and named one of the Top 100 criminal defense attorneys in California by the National Trial Lawyers Association. I'm the attorney other lawyers hire to defend them.