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Crime Victims Can't Get Reimbursed for Private Investigations, Civil Suits

By Molly Zilli, Esq. on June 05, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Understandably, victims of crime often pursue justice against their perpetrators. However, not all are content with the investigations and outcomes achieved by the criminal justice system. So, some will conduct private investigations or pursue civil actions at great personal expense. And while those are perfectly reasonable courses of action to take, the Supreme Court ruled last week that under existing law, convicted defendants can't be required to reimburse crime victims for those expenses.

Private Investigations

In the case before the Supreme Court, Sergio Lagos was suspected of defrauding General Electric Capital Corporation out of tens of millions of dollars. GE spent nearly $5 million on a private investigation into Lagos, as well as bankruptcy proceedings once Lagos's company went bankrupt. After Lagos pleaded guilty, the court ordered him to pay restitution for those costs. An appeals court affirmed the decision, reasoning that the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996 required Lagos to pay for these types of expenses. The Supreme Court disagreed.

Mandatory Victims Restitution Act

Under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA), defendants convicted of certain crimes, including wire fraud, are required to "reimburse the victim for ... expenses incurred during participation in the investigation or prosecution of the offense or attendance at proceedings related to the offense." However, according to the Supreme Court, these "investigations" and "proceedings" refer to government investigations and criminal proceedings. Therefore, the MVRA did not require Lagos to pay for GE's private investigation and bankruptcy proceeding costs.

The court reasoned that the MVRA's use of the word "prosecution" showed that it was intended to apply to government investigations and proceedings, not private or civil ones. Additionally, the MVRA does call out specific costs related to an individual's expenses incurred while participating in an investigation or trial, such as daycare, transportation costs, and lost income.

If you've been the victim of a crime, know that there is often more than one way to seek compensation for your injuries or other harm you've suffered. Or, if you've been accused of a crime, ensure you have an experienced defense attorney who can protect your rights. Speak with an attorney to discuss your options.

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