In the state of Washington, the criminal court system provides two ways that crime victims can obtain reimbursement for the damages they’ve suffered as the result of a crime. Victims may be reimbursed through the state’s crime victim compensation statutes or by a judge’s order to a convicted offender to pay restitution. Precisely what is the legal definition and function of restitution?
Restitution is the payment that a criminal court orders a convicted offender to pay his or her victim or victims for the losses suffered as a result of the crime. Laws in every state provide for the payment of restitution to crime victims. Imposing restitution as part of a criminal sentence is usually seen as a just and reasonable way to hold an offender accountable for his or her criminal behavior.
Technically speaking, restitution is not compensation. Wikipedia explains it this way: “When a court orders restitution it orders the defendant to give up his/her gains to the claimant. When a court orders compensation it orders the defendant to pay the claimant for his or her loss.”
Fines are not restitution, either. Fines are predetermined amounts specified by state law and paid directly to the court as a criminal penalty. Restitution, on the other hand, is paid to victims for their losses, so the amount of restitution a court will order will depend on the amount of those losses. Courts are typically required to consider restitution as part of any criminal sentence, even if the crime victim hasn’t requested it.
WHEN IS RESTITUTION ORDERED? FOR WHAT CRIMES?
Restitution is usually ordered if a crime victim’s losses are a direct result of the crime, if the judge feels restitution is necessary for the offender’s rehabilitation, or if restitution will in some sense make the victim “whole” again. In fraud and theft cases, restitution is almost always ordered by the court; many states require the payment of restitution for crimes against the elderly, sexual assaults, hate crimes, domestic violence, child abuse, driving under the influence, and identity fraud. Anyone who is accused of any of these crimes in the state of Washington should seek legal help right away by contacting an experienced Seattle criminal defense lawyer.
State law in Washington says that with one exception, “restitution ordered by a court pursuant to a criminal conviction shall be based on easily ascertainable damages for injury to or loss of property, actual expenses incurred for treatment for injury to persons, and lost wages resulting from injury. Restitution shall not include reimbursement for damages for mental anguish, pain and suffering, or other intangible losses, but may include the costs of counseling reasonably related to the offense. The amount of restitution shall not exceed double the amount of the offender’s gain or the victim’s loss from the commission of the crime.”
Thus, in the state of Washington, an order to pay restitution may only be based on “easily ascertainable damages” and “actual expenses.” The single exception specified in Washington state law is restitution ordered for the crime of the rape of a child in the first, second, or third degree, in which the victim becomes pregnant.
Washington law says: “Restitution for the crime of rape of a child in the first, second, or third degree, in which the victim becomes pregnant, shall include: (a) All of the victim’s medical expenses that are associated with the rape and resulting pregnancy; and (b) child support for any child born as a result of the rape …”
Restitution is a matter exclusively of the criminal courts and is not intended as a substitute for civil remedies that crime victims may choose to pursue, such as personal injury lawsuits. Under the state of Washington’s restitution statute, when restitution is ordered, the court shall determine the amount at the sentencing hearing or within 180 days after sentencing, although the court may allow more than 180 days if requested for good cause by either the prosecution or by the defense.
WHO QUALIFIES TO RECEIVE RESTITUTION?
Typically, restitution is paid to the person or persons who directly sustained losses and/or injury due to the offender’s crime. In most states, a crime “victim” can be a person or persons, a business, a nonprofit, or a government agency.
Sometimes the indirect victims of crime, such as a murder victim’s surviving family members, may also qualify for restitution. When a crime victim has already been assisted by an insurance company, a victim services agency, or a government agency, restitution to that insurance company or agency may be ordered.
For some crimes, restitution may also be paid directly to the state for costs that may include emergency services, law enforcement and investigative expenses, and more. A Washington state court can order restitution for a variety of expenses including funeral costs in homicide cases, lost wages due to crime-related injuries, medical and counseling expenses, and lost, damaged, or destroyed property.
In deciding on the amount of restitution to be ordered in a specific case, a court must consider and weigh all of these elements:
- the crime victim’s losses
- the gravity and circumstances of the crime
- the gain achieved by the offender
- the financial burden imposed on the victim(s)
- the resources of the offender and his or her ability to pay
WHAT IF A CRIMINAL OFFENDER CANNOT PAY RESTITUTION?
When the offender has no ability to pay full restitution, partial restitution may sometimes be ordered. Restitution, however, is frequently disputed in criminal cases. In the state of Washington, a criminal offender has the right to a hearing on the amount of restitution to be ordered and has the right to be represented at that hearing by a Seattle criminal defense lawyer. When a defendant disputes facts that are pertinent to deciding the amount of restitution, a prosecutor must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount of restitution requested is appropriate and is “causally connected” to the criminal conduct at issue.
In some cases, persons charged with particular misdemeanors in the state of Washington can have the charges dropped through what is called “compromise of misdemeanor,” which usually requires the payment of restitution. The terms are negotiated between the alleged victim and the defendant’s attorney.
Usually, reimbursement for medical costs or property damage is required. When an agreement is reached, the victim signs a request for the charge against the defendant to be dropped. Judges in these cases usually dismiss the criminal charge on the basis of the compromise.