What is restitution?
Restitution is paid by the offender to the victim. In a criminal case, restitution is requested by the prosecution and ordered by the judge. Presentence reports and victim impact statements provide an opportunity for the victim to detail losses and to determine the amount of restitution. Restitution may be ordered as a part of a plea bargain, or as a condition of probation or parole. For a victim to receive restitution, the offender must be charged, convicted, ordered to pay and actually make payments.
A victim may also proceed through the civil court system to seek restitution. This usually requires hiring a private attorney.
What is the difference between restitution and compensation?
Restitution usually is paid by an offender to the victim. Compensation benefits are paid by a third party. All states have crime victims' compensation programs. The Texas Crime Victims' Compensation Program, which is administered by the Office of the Attorney General, gets funding primarily from court costs, fees and fines attached to criminal convictions.
Can a judge order restitution for losses already covered by the Crime Victims' Compensation Program?
The court may order the defendant to repay the Compensation Program for expenses that were previously paid to the victim. Many prosecutors routinely check with the compensation program before entering a plea to see if benefits were paid. Donna Hanna at (800) 983-9933 or (512) 936-1249 is the direct contact for this information.
Remember that restitution can pay for many losses not covered by compensation, such as property loss. Prosecutors can also check with the compensation program to ensure that there are no duplications.
Does a judge have to order restitution?
In Texas, victims have a right to restitution under our State Constitution (Article I, Section 30(4)). Following the recommendations of the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime, many states, like Texas, have adopted statutes that require the judge to state for the record why, full restitution is not ordered (Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 42.037).
If restitution is not ordered, the judge can order the defendant to make a one-time payment of $50 in misdemeanor cases or $100 in felony cases, to the Texas Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund.
New legislation also allows for a transaction fee for offenders making restitution in installment payments. Of this $12 fee, $6 goes to the Compensation Fund and the court keeps the other half. For more information on this new legislation, please see our Legislative Highlights article in this issue or contact Jerry Caldwell at (800) 983-9933 or (512) 463-1303.