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Restitution is a payment made by the perpetrator of a crime to the victims of that crime. Judges often order restitution be paid in cases where victims suffered some kind of financial setback as the result of a crime. The payment is meant to make the victims whole and restore them financially to the point they were at prior to the commission of the crime.

For example, a graffiti artist who spray paints the side of a residential home may be ordered to reimburse the homeowners. The money could then be used to repaint the home. In another example, a defendant who broke his victim's arm in a robbery may be ordered to compensate the victim for his medical expenses.

When It Applies

Judges typically order restitution as a condition of another sentence such as incarceration or probation, although it's possible to receive a sentence of restitution on its own as an alternative sentence. States and the federal government have statutes that determine who can receive restitution and how judges can determine the amount that defendants will have to pay.

Restitution vs. Fines

Restitution differs from a fine in that it's paid to the victims of a crime to compensate them for the injuries they suffered as a result of the crime. A fine, on the other hand, is paid to the government strictly as a punitive measure. While a government can be a victim of a crime for restitution purposes, a fine is not intended to compensate the government for its injuries. Instead, a fine is meant only to punish an offender and deter future criminal behavior.

For example, if a jury convicts a defendant of stealing government property, a judge could order the defendant to pay the government restitution in the amount of the value of the piece of property. In addition, the judge could also fine the defendant in order to punish and deter. The two payments are separate one is to compensate the government for its loss and the other is to punish the perpetrator.

How Does Restitution Work?

When a criminal defendant has been convicted, a judge can include a cash award to the victim or victims as part of the sentencing process. How it's collected and disbursed can differ by state.

In California, for example, an inmate trust account is created when a prisoner is first placed in prison. The account is used for an inmate's deposits or withdrawals as they can earn money (at a very low wage) from jobs they may hold in prison and can also make certain purchases with their income. Where a restitution order is in place in California, the state will garnish 50 percent of an inmate's deposits to pay this or any other fines or court-ordered payments.

However, because an inmate's account often has a minimal balance, it can take a very long time for victims to receive any form of substantial restitution. If an inmate is released on parole and begins earning more income, this can lead to larger payments.

Learn More About Restitution by Speaking with an Attorney

Restitution is a way for offenders to partially repay crime victims for their losses, often ordered by judges. If you were ordered to pay restitution, or have questions about criminal charges or procedures, you may want to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area.

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