Even a “Little” Mistake Can Mean Big Restitution
It’s something you might now have considered. As far as you’re concerned, you made just a little mistake. That aside, you don’t really think your charges mean you’ll be sent to jail. You’re ready to pay whatever fines the judge orders. And, yes – you know you’ll have to dip into your pocket for court costs. However, you might have to take out a personal loan for one other expense. You need to be prepared to pay court-ordered restitution.
More than likely, you already have an inkling as to the legal definition of restitution. Restitution may be relevant in contract disputes to make up for economic losses. When it comes to criminal charges, restitution means providing some sort of restoration to the victim.
Let’s say for example you decided to take some spray paint to a building in Jersey City. No doubt your “artistic” antics are seen by the court as graffiti. Under New Jersey law, it’s already a crime of the fourth degree to deface private property. And, there are additional penalties because of your actions.
Truth be told, the call for monetary restitution involving graffiti is actually written right into the statutory language. Without question, it’s going to cost the property owner to clean up your mess. The judge has the option of ordering you to pay restitution or order you to a minimum of 20 days of community service.
According to NJSA 2A:93-5.1, there are times when it is critical to discuss monetary losses at a restitution hearing. Although the defendant’s presence is mandatory, the victim’s attendance is optional. A jury is not present during a restitution hearing – the judge considers the issue alone. Restitution may not exceed the victim’s actual losses.
When Restitution is Ordered
Restitution often becomes a part of the plea-bargaining process. Meanwhile, the victim does not necessarily have to request compensation for the projected losses. You may think of restitution in cases involving stolen goods or fraud cases. The bottom line is that restitution is intended to make the victim whole.
Notably, restitution is different than pursuing a damage award in civil court. Most importantly, restitution deals solely with economic losses. In our graffiti case, the economic loss centered on restoring the property to its original state. In some circumstances, restitution may mean reimbursement of lost wages or medical bill payment.
Depending on the situation, a victim may pursue a civil case for non-economic losses. For example, a sexual assault victim may make a damages claim for the actual physical and emotional harm caused by the attack. This is separate and above from restitution.
If you are lucky enough, you may avoid incarceration. Instead, the judge may order you to probation. Essentially, this means that you may continue to stay in the community – but must report to a probation officer for supervision. Here, you will learn about the proper means of making the court-ordered payments.
What if you do go to jail and get out on Parole? The State of New Jersey has a hotline set up for offenders who are required to make restitution payments. Failure to pay restitution after ninety days results in referral to a collections agency. Ultimately, the delinquency can be reduced to a civil judgment. Obviously, this will impact your credit rating and any hopes you have of buying a house.