Criminal Restitution vs. Civil Compensation

What are the differences and similarities between the two?

According to Arizona law, a victim of a crime is entitled to receive from the convicted criminal the full economic value of the victim’s losses as determined by the Court. A.R.S. §13-603(C). This restitution is included in the Sentencing component after the criminal has either pled guilty or been convicted at trial.
Restitution is separate and distinct from civil compensation – the realm where personal injury claims exist. However, there can be crossover between restitution and civil compensation. This occurs when the criminal’s actions led to the victim suffering a loss. Unless the criminal is wealthy, a rare occurrence, it can be difficult for a victim to actually collect any civil compensation from a criminal. However, in some instances where the injury resulted from the criminal’s negligence (rather than intentional injury) the victim’s injuries may be covered by the criminal’s insurance policy.

For example, if you are rear ended by a drunk driver, you will have a potential claim against the driver in Civil court and that driver’s car insurance policy could be liable for your injuries. You will also be considered the victim in the Criminal case against the drunk driver. In the Criminal court, prosecutors will ask the victim to submit receipts for their economic loss. These can be thought of as out-of-pocket expenses. Some examples of out-of-pocket expenses include: health insurance co-pays, car repair deductibles, lost wages, cost to replace damaged clothing or a cell phone, etc… Restitution, while typically smaller than civil compensation, can be a considerable sum if the crime victim suffered terrible injuries and did not have health insurance.

Civil compensation includes losses beyond those easily measurable by receipts such as pain, suffering, changes to lifestyle, and the sum of the medical bills, regardless of the existence of health insurance. Restitution is paid by the convicted criminal to the victim over a period of time. If the court slaps a convicted drunk driver with a $4000 restitution charge, it may take years of $20/month payments before the victim finally realizes the full extent of the compensation. On the other hand, in the civil court, if the injured party settles for $150,000, the drunk driver’s insurance company will issue the check in full, usually within thirty days of settlement.

In many civil cases we handle at the Rockafellow Law Firm, there are concurrent criminal proceedings occurring at the same time. We work with you and the prosecutors to assure that your restitution claim is complete as we add value to your civil claim.

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