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.
The juvenile’s attorney can request a hearing if they do not agree with the restitution amount. In the absence of an objection, the judge will simply enter a restitution order. If there is an objection, the court will conduct a restitution hearing, after which it will enter an appropriate order.
Not every juvenile matter is heard by a judge. Juvenile cases involving less serious charges are sometimes heard by a juvenile referee. Referee matters are less formal than court proceedings. In these cases, the referee will recommend a disposition to a judge that will either state an amount of restitution that the parties have agreed to, or that a restitution report will be prepared by the Family Division and submitted to the court within 30 days. (Many juvenile defendants whose cases are assigned to referees choose to proceed without an attorney. This is a mistake. A referee matter can still impact upon a juvenile defendant’s life. Further, in cases involving restitution, an attorney can help negotiate a final dollar amount that is more favorable to the juvenile and their family or, when necessary, lodge a proper objection to the restitution amount.)
Some juvenile matters result in a deferred disposition. This means that if the juvenile complies with certain terms and conditions imposed by the court (generally just staying out of further trouble), the case will eventually be dismissed. Restitution can, however, still be ordered in a deferred disposition case. Under these circumstances, the probation department will monitor the collection of the restitution amount.
The stakes are high in every juvenile case because of the potential impact that charges can have on the juvenile’s future. Consideration of restitution issues must factor into the formulation of a successful strategy in a juvenile case.
James S. Friedman is an attorney in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Mr. Friedman represents juveniles with criminal charges in all courts in New Jersey and New York City. If your son or daughter has charges, contact Mr. Friedman to learn about your options, and to plan a strategy that will lead to a successful disposition of the case.