When A Criminal Has To Pay Restitution To His Victims (Don't Need Answer Fast)

I’ve been Skyping with a man who defrauded investors out of millions (for a story). He did his time and is out now, and he’s been ordered by the court to pay back his investors. I consider that highly unlikely, since he was broke before he defrauded his clients and is equally broke now, to say nothing of being comfortably in his seventies.

When you’re ordered to pay restitution - in particular when it’s far more than you could reasonably expect to ever repay - does the court take every last dime you make and leave you destitute? Or does the court set something like a monthly payment that still leaves you enough to live on?

*In this particular case, they guy worked odd jobs and made some money as a musician before his crimes. Now he’s too old to work and isn’t likely to get many paying gigs. He’s living with friends.

I’m sure it differs somewhat from place to place, but the one person I can think of offhand who must pay millions in restitution has to pay a certain percentage of his income (I think it’s 20%) each month.

Many (most?) crime victims, just like many parents owed child support, find that in reality, it never gets paid.

I had money stolen from my home. The 19-year-old thief was caught, but the money was long gone. And several years later, he’s now in a drug treatment facility (to avoid a prison sentence). He never graduated high school, has no drivers license, and no marketable skills (other than saying “would you like fries with that?”) I have no reasonable expectation that I will ever get paid that money.

Depending on the particular court and a given state’s laws, when restitution is part of either a plea agreement explicitly or just a part of a judge’s sentence independent of any plea agreement, the court (or probation department if someone is sentenced to probation) can set a minimum monthly payment that is due to either the clerk of the court or the probation office (again, if sentenced to probation), or sometimes even a special restitution department of the prosecutor’s office. From there, the money would get distributed to any and all listed victims. Basically, restitution then becomes like any other debt except criminal restitution is generally not considered to be dischargeable through a bankruptcy action.

If a defendant is ordered to pay restitution as a condition of probation and doesn’t pay, then that could form the basis of a petition by the probation department to deem the defendant in violation of probation. A warrant could be issued for their arrest and their probation could even be revoked and they be sentenced to prison, though either of these would be unlikely unless there were more serious alleged probation violations (*opinion not valid in certain Southern jurisdictions).

I assume restitution is like any other collectible debt. From what I’ve heard (Canada) of garnishee orders, if you ask the court for an order to present to someone who pays the debtor (i.e. wages) the court will decide how much the person needs to live on and order the rest deducted and forwarded. Not sure of its legality now, but many companies used to have a policy to fire someone as soon as they got a garnishee order (since more often than not, these were lower end jobs). Plus, people with that much money trouble typically end up with multiple garnishee orders, adding to the administrative headache for the employer. It was not worth the back-and-forth hassle with the courts over what had been paid, withheld, etc. It also discouraged dragging the employer into personal disputes. IIRC there was also a maximum percentage of wage that could be garnisheed.

OTOH, we had some punk kids who broke into the clubhouse for an organization I was member of. Two were sentenced including restitution, but one of the three was caught red-handed in another break-in and pled guilty to all outstanding charges before we could ask for restitution. The guy in charge went for a restitution order, and the judge gave him one for the full amount (even though the other two had paid their share…!) Everyone told him it was a waste of time, where’s a guy like that going to get $20,000? However, a few weeks after he’s out of prison, he’s a passenger in a car accident and gets a lump sum payment for physiotherapy. The people processing this (it’s a small town) immediately called our guy, who got a hold put on the cheque, and eventually got the whole amount turned over to our organization. The moral of the story? Never give up on someone’s ability to pay.

True - the whole point of probation is to get people out of overcrowded prisons unless there’s a good reason for them to stay. Not being able to come up with cash they don’t have is unlikely to be a good reason.

A burgler who stole some stuff from our garage got caught. Turned out he had stolen 10s of thousands of dollars of stuff in the area.
He was broke by the time he was caught and convicted.
The judge did not give him prison time. Instead she felt he should make it to the victims by paying restitution.
Did I mention he was broke? The judge knew this and ordered him to a halfway house.
We never got a dime.

Indeed, your taxes probably went to pay the expenses of the halfway house.