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National Crime Victim Law Institute

Restitution: A Fundamental Right for Victims

March 12, 2013

Victims of crime often suffer immeasurable harm as a result of the criminal conduct inflicted on them.  The economic impact of such harm is rightly borne by the perpetrator, not the victim.   Restitution is one mechanism by which the justice system can ensure that the perpetrator, not the victim, bears the burden.  Restitution is ordered in criminal sentences and is money paid from the offender to the victim for losses that the victim suffered as a result of the offender’s crime.  Ordering and securing collection of restitution is an important part of ensuring that victims are treated fairly and with dignity.  Fortunately, every jurisdiction has a statutory provision providing a right to restitution, and at least eighteen states have enshrined the right in their constitutions. (Read more in NCVLI’s publication, A Summary of 12 Common Victims’ Rights).  These restitution provisions have evolved out of a historical framework embodying both compensatory and penological (e.g., deterrence, rehabilitation, and accountability) aims. 

Despite these laws affording victims statutory and constitutional rights to restitution, victims are fighting every day to secure full restitution orders and to recover even pennies on the dollar of those orders.  NCVLI is a part of this fight.  We are working to ensure that the right to restitution is meaningful so that victims are not asked to finance their own victimization. 

As part of this fight we are working on four restitution cases pending in appellate courts right now!  One of these is in front of the Oregon Supreme Court in a case in which defendant pled guilty to DUII and Assault IV and everyone in the case agreed on the economic losses of the victims.  Despite this the trial court awarded the victims only 10% of their losses because the trial court thought the victims were “at fault” also.  This insertion of what is known in civil law as “comparative fault” is a dangerous turn that could result in victims being put on trial and increased victim-blaming.  NCVLI secured pro bono counsel for these victims and has submitted an amicus brief in the case! 

In another case we are fighting in the Utah Supreme Court in a case in which defendant - convicted of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor not involving intercourse - has objected to the victims recovering the costs of travel and lost wages related to their attendance at court proceedings.  NCVLI is submitting an amicus brief on the law.  In this and all of our restitution cases we pose the question - how can we ask victims to report crimes and participate in our justice system if we turn around and hand them a bill?

We passed laws nationwide to ensure that victims of crime do not have to finance their own victimization.  We must now fight to ensure that those rights are meaningful!