What about innocent crime victims who get robbed of their purses or money? Or their cars are stolen and trashed? What if they lose time from their jobs? Do they ever get paid back? How are they compensated? In Minnesota where I practice criminal law, here are seven things that can help crime victims.
1. For over thirty years there have been laws on the books to pay crime victims. In the courts it’s called “restitution.” A victim has the right to receive money from the offender as part of the sentencing process.
2. Whenever restitution is ordered by the judge, a restitution study is also part of the order. This study is conducted by a department of the court system. They contact the crime victim and ask for proof of the loss. This could be records of valuables taken from a home in a burglary. It could be the repair estimates for a damaged car. It could be proof of lost wages or a list of valuables taken from a stolen purse. Some crime victims also have medical bills for injuries.
3. The Restitution Department checks-out the claims of crime victims to make sure they’re not padding their losses. They would be able to use the power of the court to collect more than they’re entitled to receive. The final report is given to the judge and the perpetrator.
4. The criminal is ordered by the judge to pay the full amount to the Restitution Department—not the crime victim. This avoids any possible trouble or further disagreements between the crime victim and the criminal.
5. Does the criminal get any protection? The Restitution Department has already checked-out the crime victim’s claim and proof of loss. If the victim has been compensated by insurance for example, the victim can’t collect twice. In that case, the judge would order the criminal to pay only the deductible amount the crime victim has paid out of pocket. Also, if there were more than one criminal convicted, they will all share responsibility for payment—each of them paying a share of the loss.
6. What if one of the criminals didn’t actually cause the loss to the crime victim? The co-defendant is still liable for some part of the restitution because the law wants the victim compensated first. The defendant’s rights come second.
7. What if the criminal is unemployed and doesn’t have any money and can’t compensate the crime victim? Most states have a Crime Victims Reparations Board. This may be a source of money for the victim who must apply for compensation from the board.
Does this seem fair to you? What would you do differently?