Probation Department and Victim Restitution
Restitution issues are significant in criminal defense, especially in the San Fernando Valley courts and in surrounding courts in LA county. The biggest thing is that the prosecutors and judges feel they must get people compensated for any losses related to any criminal conduct.
So, the legislature has passed many laws that are very pro-victim when it comes to restitution. Victims are trying to get all sorts of refunds – even if they've been paid back by their insurance companies. If you've got a restitution issue, you want to have an attorney who obviously knows what they're doing and has handled these types of cases before.
Many people don't realize that if a bunch of restitution is owed in a criminal case, you paying that restitution up-front is usually an excellent bargaining chip for your criminal defense attorney to try to work a fantastic deal out for you. But, even if you can't pay it — which are many people are not able to pay it back — you're still going to be ordered to pay it, and they're going to make you pay whatever you can monthly.
If you get probation, then the probation department will work on how much money you can afford to pay per month. They're going to keep making you pay it until it's paid off. Eventually, if the probation ends or is terminated for some reason, then they'll probably be a civil judgment assessed against you related to that restitution.
So, it doesn't go away. That's why when I often do these cases, if people can come up with the money, I encourage them to do so because if I can tell the prosecutor, we got the money. We can pay the person back; then I've got a strong argument that this person shouldn't get any jail time but should be given credit for helping make the victim whole.
Another issue in these restitution cases is how much you owe in restitution or whether you owe a refund. Sometimes you can be involved in a criminal case and be responsible criminally. Still, there's an argument that you're not responsible for the particular victim for the loss of their money. They may have lost money or product or injury or whatever it is, and that may not be your fault.
Avoid Admitting Liability For Purposes of Restitution
The first thing you want to do is not admit liability for purposes of restitution in a criminal case. Sometimes you cannot avoid doing it. You've got to accept liability because the prosecutors won't give you a deal otherwise.
They'll say listen; we'll offer to settle the case. We'll give your client this, but we want them to admit liability for purposes of restitution, and if they don't, we won't give them a deal. So, sometimes you can argue that; sometimes you can't. Other times, you can admit responsibility or liability, but you would be entitled to have a hearing on any restitution issue. So, if the alleged victim is trying to claim thousands of dollars in restitution that are not warranted, you would then be entitled to have a hearing.
Evidence would be put on by the prosecution on behalf of the victim. You could put on evidence through your attorney, and ultimately, the judge is going to decide number one, whether you owe any restitution in the case and number two, if you do owe repayment, how much it's going to be, and then they're going to order you to pay that amount of refund.
I'm just telling you, most of the case law — since I've battled restitution cases of twenty-five years — most of the case law favors the victim. The legislature is trying to help the victim the best they can and, again, get them compensated for any injuries or losses related to any criminal activity. In every case where there's a victim, the judge and prosecutor will be looking at and talking about restitution. So, be prepared for that. Your attorney has to be ready for that and give them all the information to defend you in the case properly.
Victim's Restitution Fund
There's also a Victim's Restitution Fund in all the courts in San Fernando Valley. That's money that every single criminal defendant who gets convicted of a crime has to pay a couple of hundred dollars or a hundred dollars into the victim restitution fund fine. That money is supposed to be used to help victims of crime.
So, this whole restitution issue is a big one. It's important. You want to huddle up with your criminal defense attorney. If you've got a criminal case and you're concerned about the whole restitution issue, let your attorney know from the beginning what your position is on restitution. Then as your attorney deals with the case, they can try to protect your interest as it relates to restitution.
I get in arguments with prosecutors all the time across LA County. I'm arguing with them all the time regarding restitution and saying no; my client should not have to pay that. Fine, you may have him on some crime, but whatever crime they committed has to have a connection or a relationship to whatever restitution you're trying to get, and if it doesn't, my client doesn't have to pay it.
So, the bottom line is, if you have a restitution issue, give me a call. If you have a criminal matter related to restitution, call the Hedding Law Firm. We'll sit down. We'll strategize and figure out how to deal with it.