Collecting Restitution

Crime Victims Have Restitution Rights

Criminal Restitution: What It Is

In California, if you are a victim of a crime and you suffer an economic loss, you are entitled to recover for that loss.   (Penal Code section 1202.4.)   “Economic losses”  means a financial loss.   It includes such things as medical expenses, counseling expenses, property damage or other losses.  This could include money lost when someone defrauds you or maybe when an employee steals from you.   The person convicted of the crime — the offender — is responsible for paying the victim.   If the crime is committed by a juvenile,  a parent or guardian may also be liable.  Criminal restitution is a permanent order.  It does not expire.  It cannot be discharged through bankruptcy.  (Penal Code section 1214.)

How to Collect Criminal Restitution

If the criminal or juvenile is still involved with the criminal justice system, courts pursue the collection of criminal restitution.   If the criminal or juvenile offender is granted probation, courts can usually pursue collection of criminal restitution through local authorities.   The offender then makes monthly payments.  Those are collected by the court and sent to you.   If the offender is sentenced to the California Department of Corrections or to the California Division of Juvenile Justice, payments can be made to you from their prison wages.   This is usually at the rate of 20-50% of their prison wages.

But what if the criminal or juvenile is no longer involved with the criminal justice system?   Can you collect it on your own or with an attorney?   The answer is “yes.”

Enforcing Criminal Restitution as A Civil Judgment

A criminal or juvenile order for criminal restitution is enforceable as a civil judgment.   This means that a victim of criminal restitution has all of the remedies under law of a judgment creditor to enforce the criminal restitution order as a civil judgment.   This can include conducting a judgment debtor’s examination, wage garnishments, placing a lien on the offender’s property, having a writ of execution on the offender’s property or any kind of levy available to a creditor.   To help victims recover  criminal restitution as civil judgments, California law also permits them to obtain information about the offender’s assets by sending questionnaires and interrogatories.

Hopefully, you will never be a victim of a crime.  Hopefully, you will never have to deal with recovering criminal restitution for the economic losses caused by that crime.  However, if you do, it’s important to know that you have a right, as a creditor,to enforce and recover the amount awarded as criminal restitution.   You can use all of the tools available to collect civil judgments.   While there’s no guarantee you will be able to collect all of it, it’s important to understand your right to restitution as a crime victim.


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