If you have been charged with a criminal offense, you undoubtedly realize that you will be sentenced to some type of punishment if you are convicted of that offense. Your sentence might include serving a period of time in jail or prison, paying a fine, or spending time on probation. If you are convicted of certain criminal offenses, you might also be ordered to pay restitution. Because restitution does not apply to all crimes, people are less familiar with it than they are other sentencing options. Because it might apply to your case, a criminal defense lawyer provides an overview of restitution.
What Is Restitution?
Restitution can be part of a civil judgment or a criminal sentence. In either case, restitution is a monetary award. In a criminal case, restitution is awarded as a way to try and compensate a victim who was injured or who suffered a loss as a result of the defendant’s criminal conduct. The restitution award is based on the value of the damage or injury the defendant caused or the value of the goods a defendant stole/damaged. By way of illustration, imagine that you are convicted of criminal mischief for your graffiti artwork on the side of a store. The store owner probably incurred some expenses as a result of your crime. The judge might order you to pay restitution to the store owner as part of your sentence as a way to reimburse the victim for those expenses. As another example, imagine that you are convicted of assault for a bar fight. The victim was transported to the hospital and ended up with a broken arm and some other minor injuries. You might be ordered to pay restitution to the victim as a way to compensate the victim for the injuries you caused.
What Restitution Is Not
It is equally important to understand what restitution is not and what it cannot represent. Unlike compensation in a civil personal injury lawsuit, however, criminal restitution only covers actual damages. Non-economic damages, commonly referred to as “pain and suffering,” are not included in a restitution award. What this means is that the victim in a criminal prosecution cannot be compensated for the emotional trauma the crime caused. The only way to seek compensation for emotional distress or other non-economic damages is through a civil lawsuit. For instance, in the assault example above, a victim could pursue additional damages through a civil lawsuit based on the intentional tort of assault.
How Is Restitution Determined?
Usually, a separate hearing is held if restitution is being considered. At the hearing, the state will present evidence of out of pocket expenses, or actual damages, incurred by the victim of the crime. The defendant does have the right to question any of those expenses or to prove to the court that they have already been paid. For example, if you had liability insurance that already covered the victim’s bills, you can present that to the court. Restitution is only intended to compensate a victim for expenses actually incurred, not provide the victim with a windfall by paying the victim twice for the same expense.
How Does a Defendant Pay Restitution?
As a general rule, the court will give the defendant a specific amount of time to pay the restitution or will order that the restitution is paid while on probation. The court or probation department will then forward the payments to the victim. Keep in mind that if restitution is ordered, it is part of your sentence, meaning that failure to pay is a violation of the court’s sentencing order and could lead to additional legal problems.
Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer at Petersen Law Office
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in the State of Nebraska, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense lawyer right away to discuss possible defenses. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case.