What is restitution, and why do judges impose it?

You’re likely aware that judges generally impose imprisonment, probation, fines and fees when sentencing a defendant for a white collar criminal offense. What you might not know is that the court typically also imposes restitution.

What’s the purpose of imposing restitution?

Restitution is a financial penalty that generally aligns with the amount of financial damages a victim allegedly suffered in a crime. The goal of imposing restitution is to restore a victim to a financial state similar where they were before the offense.

Judges have a lot of leeway in imposing sentences. Many sentencing guidelines allow them to order defendants to pay restitution instead of probation or incarceration. These sentencing guidelines may also outline how much restitution a judge needs to impose.

How do defendants pay restitution?

The court may order a defendant who is on probation or parole to pay a monthly amount toward the overall amount due. A failure to pay may result in a probation or parole violation. Any defendant who fails to pay what’s due may end up having their wages garnished to pay what’s due. Each jurisdiction imposes limitations on how much and for how long garnishments can occur.

Incarcerated defendants may be assigned an inmate trust account that they can deposit their prison wages into. Most states will allow the courts to garnish as much as 50% of the proceeds in those accounts to go toward paying restitution.

No one wants to find themselves charged with a crime and facing the potential of a criminal record. The added pressure of having to pay restitution isn’t an extra burden that you’ll want to bear. That’s why you need to put up the best defense in your case if you want to minimize your chance of a conviction and the imposition of associated restitution.