Most people associate penalties in criminal cases with probation, incarceration and/or fines. There is, however, another court-imposed obligation that can be imposed in any case involving financial loss. A sentencing judge can, and frequently does, order the defendant to pay restitution as compensation for any monetary losses sustained by the victim. A restitution obligation frequently comes as a surprise to most clients, who are typically focused on the other types of penalties that may be imposed. Ideally, any client facing charges involving a financial loss or property damage must understand from the beginning of the case that a plea arrangement or guilty verdict after trial could entail a restitution obligation in addition to other penalties.
Restitution is not confined to adult cases, but can be required in juvenile matters as well. The Administrative Office of the Courts recently promulgated new, uniform guidelines that are to be followed when imposing restitution in juvenile cases. These guidelines, among other things, require the prosecutor to make every effort to provide information concerning restitution at the time of the plea. If this is not done, the judge hearing the case shall, at the time of the plea or the adjudication of delinquency (which frequently occur at the same hearing), order the prosecutor to provide information concerning restitution within 30 days.
Sometimes in juvenile cases, a judge may ask for a pre-disposition report to be prepared in advance of sentencing. This report contains information about the juvenile that will factor into the sentencing judge’s findings and conclusions. Under the new guidelines, if the court asks for a a pre-disposition report, the prosecutor will be ordered to submit restitution information and a recommendation to the Family Division for inclusion in that report. Defense counsel will, of course, have the opportunity to review that report prior to sentencing.