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What is Criminal Restitution?

Being convicted of a crime in Texas comes with serious penalties. The most common are jail or prison sentences, as well as Criminal fines. But Restitution is a key part of many criminal cases. Many defendants have never heard of it, but you could find yourself paying tens of thousands of dollars—or even more—on top of criminal fines. In fact, the state’s constitution grants crime victims a guaranteed right to restitution.

Tad Nelson is an experienced Galveston Criminal Defense Lawyer who has helped thousands of Texas with their criminal cases. He understands the rules regarding restitution and can help you navigate your obligations. Ideally, you should avoid any criminal conviction, so let our firm review the facts of your case.

When Will a Judge Order Restitution?

We see restitution in all sorts of cases:

  • Theft, burglary, embezzlement: if you stole money, then a judge will likely order that you pay it back. If you stole an item, you should also return it.
  • Drunk driving accidents: if a victim suffers a personal injury, a judge can order restitution for expenses incurred, such as medical care and property damage.
  • Violent crimes: a defendant might have to pay for expenses suffered for bodily injuries, such as medical treatment, if they intentionally injure a victim.

Judges are more likely to order restitution when they can calculate how much you have cost a victim.

Who Decides Restitution?

Restitution is set during the sentencing phase after a defendant is found guilty. The judge sets restitution, not the jury. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 42.037 states that a court sentencing a defendant “may order” restitution. However, if the court declines to order restitution—or orders only partial restitution—then the judge should state the reasons why on the record.

Both the defendant and the state can negotiate the amount a defendant will pay, or the judge can use unchallenged evidence. In other cases, a judge might receive evidence at a restitution hearing and use this evidence to calculate the amount owed.

How Do You Pay Restitution?

A victim might agree that a defendant can volunteer at an organization in lieu of paying financial restitution. But in most cases, restitution involves returning stolen property, or it consists of paying money.

If you stole something, then giving it back should be easy, unless it is out of your hands or you converted it to something else. In those situations, you might have to pay money to the victim instead.

  • If you are on probation, then you can make monthly payments to the Community Supervision and Corrections Department, which then forwards the money to the victim.
  • If you are incarcerated, then the state can withdraw restitution from your trust fund account and send it to the victim.
  • If you are on parole, you pay restitution to the Parole Division, who then forwards the amounts to your victims.

A court might even order parents of a minor to pay restitution for a crime their child commits. This is definitely something parents need to be aware of and can make a big difference in whether you fight a juvenile charge.

Restitution Liens

A victim might also file a lien on your property. This lien gives them a right to payment should you sell the encumbered property, like your car. The victim might also be able to force a sale so they get paid. This lien has priority over other liens, which testifies to how important Texas considers restitution.

Avoiding Restitution

It’s hard to avoid restitution. One argument defendants use to raise is that they had no money. Unfortunately, Texas changed its law, which used to require judges to consider a defendant’s ability to pay. Now, a judge may consider that fact—but isn’t required to. Restitution orders also survive bankruptcy proceedings, so they are awfully hard to get out of.

Your best bet is to fight the criminal charges. Avoid any criminal conviction for the underlying crime and you can move forward without a restitution order hanging over your head. Call an experienced criminal defense lawyer to discuss your options. Many cases are weaker than the state lets on, and we could ask a judge to dismiss charges for various reasons.

Contact Tad Nelson Today to Discuss Restitution

Criminal defendants face many challenges getting back on their feet after a conviction. Restitution orders could put financial stress on anyone’s bank account, including those freshly released from jail. Avoiding restitution is an important part of any criminal case.

Please contact us to speak with a seasoned Galveston criminal defense lawyer.

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What is Criminal Restitution?

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