What is victim restitution?

It is the right of victims to receive payment from the person who has committed a crime that caused harm to them or someone in their family.

How do victims get this right?

First, there must be a criminal conviction. Then, the victim must contact the court, the prosecuting attorney, or the Probation Department about their losses.

Who is a crime victim?

A crime victim is the person who was hurt because of the crime, the members of their family, or any business that was harmed by the crime.

What are losses?

Damaged or stolen property, medical bills, therapy bills, lost time from work caused by the crime (including the time spent traveling to court and any travel expenses), and damage to a business or its property.

Are victims entitled to an attorney who is separate from the prosecutor?

Yes, this is a constitutional right in California.

Who pays the victim’s attorney?

A victim must make their own arrangements with the attorney. Under California law, the criminal should be ordered to reimburse the victim for all attorneys’ fees spent on restitution.

What are the differences between seeking victim restitution for a loss and filing a civil suit against the criminal?

There are many differences. Three main ones are:

  1. Victim restitution is usually ordered to the victim within a matter of weeks of a criminal conviction. Must civil suits take well over a year, sometimes several years, to conclude.
  2. In a civil suit, the victim is required to face the perpetrator’s lawyer in a deposition. During a deposition, the lawyer will ask deeply personal questions of the victim under oath in front of a court reporter and perhaps the perpetrator as well. A deposition can last a full day, and it can be very stressful for the victim. There are no depositions in victim restitution.
  3. In most civil cases, the attorney will take between 30 to 40 percent of the victim’s recovery. This does not happen in victim restitution.

Does it matter if the criminal has property or money?

Yes. An order to pay restitution can only be enforced against someone who has the means to pay.

If I already filed a civil lawsuit against the criminal, can I still seek victim restitution?

Yes. Victim restitution can be used to increase your total recovery in some cases because a portion of your civil attorneys’ fees may be paid to you in victim restitution.

How long after the conviction happens can I seek victim restitution?

In all legal matters, it is best to act quickly while evidence and witnesses are still available.