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Ordering Restitution to the Crime Victim

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 2002
6 pages
Publication Series
After examining the status of State law pertinent to the ordering of restitution to crime victims, this paper considers current issues in restitution laws, namely, conflicting directives and other barriers to restitution orders.
Restitution laws are designed to encourage the compensation of crime victims by the person most responsible for the loss incurred by the victim, i.e., the offender. Every State gives courts the statutory authority to order restitution. In addition, 18 of the 32 State crime victims' rights constitutional amendments give victims a right to restitution. In more than one-third of all States, courts are required by statute to order restitution unless there are compelling or extraordinary circumstances. Regardless of whether restitution is mandatory, approximately one-fourth of all States require courts to state on the record the reasons for failing to order restitution or for ordering only partial restitution. Generally, restitution laws provide for restitution to the direct victims of a crime, including surviving family members of homicide victims. Many States also authorize an order of restitution to third parties, including insurers, victim compensation programs, government entities, and victim service agencies. Losses for which restitution may be ordered are medical expenses, lost wages, counseling expenses, lost or damaged property, funeral expenses, and other direct out-of-pocket expenses. Restitution law generally specifies the elements the court is to consider before it rules on restitution. One of the current issues being debated in restitution law is the circumstance under which one statute mandates restitution in every criminal case and another that expressly leaves the ordering of restitution to the court's discretion. Other barriers to restitution orders discussed in this paper are a victim's failure to request restitution, a victim's failure to demonstrate and a court's inability to calculate loss, the opinion that restitution was inappropriate in the context of other penalties imposed, and a defendant's inability to pay. 71 notes

Date Published: November 1, 2002