The Role of Restitution in Florida Criminal Cases
In criminal cases, prosecutors may seek punishment beyond prison time. If there was an identifiable victim of the crime, the prosecution may also ask the judge to order the defendant pay restitution to that victim. In a theft case, for instance, the restitution order might require the defendant to compensate the victim for the fair-market value of the stolen property. And if the victim’s injuries were physical–say, the defendant committed assault–restitution might then take the form of compensation for medical bills and lost wages.
Keep in mind, however, that restitution is not automatic. Nor can the victim simply ask for any amount of compensation they wish. This is not a personal injury lawsuit. Rather, the prosecution must ask for restitution as part of the criminal sentencing process. This means the prosecution also has the burden to prove the existence and amount of the victim’s damages for the purposes of restitution. In other words, if the victim’s loss cannot be properly documented, the judge is free to refuse or reduce the amount of restitution requested.
Court Must Determine Ability to Pay Before Ordering Juvenile Offenders to Pay Restitution
Now what about a situation where the crime is committed by a juvenile, i.e., a person under the age of 18? Florida law does provide for restitution in such cases. Here, the court can order the child’s parent to co-sign a promissory note for the amount of restitution required. But the court must also first make a determination that “the amount of restitution may not exceed an amount the child and the parent or guardian could reasonably be expected to pay or make.”
Depending on the child and parent, even a seemingly small restitution order can impose an unreasonable burden. Take this recent case from the Florida Second District Court of Appeals, AC v. State. In this case, a juvenile committed petit theft when she stole a cell phone. The trial court ordered the child to pay restitution but did not make any specific findings regarding the ability of the juvenile or her parent to actually pay. On appeal, the Second District agreed this was a legal error and ordered the trial court to make the necessary findings. As the appellate court explained, while a child “need not have a present ability to pay restitution, the court must [still] make a finding as to the juvenile’s expected earning capacity prior to setting an amount for restitution.”
Contact Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney David A. Faulkner Today
Restitution is an oft-overlooked yet critical component of criminal sentencing in Florida. A restitution order can impose significant financial hardship on a defendant even when there is little or no jail time attached to their sentence, as restitution is a condition of probation. An experienced Tampa criminal lawyer can advise and represent you in any matter where you may be liable for paying restitution. Contact the Faulkner Law Group, PLLC, today to schedule a consultation with a member of our team.