Many people may assume that convicted defendants pay fines and fees and serve a term of imprisonment, and they’ve done all they need to to make amends for their crime. That’s often not the case, however — particularly when financial crimes are involved.

Judges commonly order defendants to pay restitution in financially motivated white collar crime cases. 

What is the purpose of imposing restitution?

Restitution is financial compensation that judges order convicted defendants to pay to victims who have suffered some sort of financial distress or loss attributable to the offense. Restitution aims to restore a victim to the financial point they were at before the crime’s occurrence.

When do judges impose restitution?

Most jurisdictions have sentencing guidelines in place that aim to streamline how judges penalize anyone convicted of a crime. These sentencing guidelines can be pretty broad and give judges a lot of discretion to choose what they believe best fits the crime. 

Judges may have convicted defendants pay restitution in addition to or instead of sending them to prison or putting them on probation. The amount that the court may assess may vary significantly, as well.

You shouldn’t confuse restitution with fines. Judges impose fines that are payable to the government as a punitive deterrent. Restitution is entirely about “balancing the scales” and making victims financially whole again, whenever possible.

How do convicted defendants pay their restitution?

Convicted defendants may pay their restitution in many different ways. An incarcerated defendant may have an inmate trust account funded by the wages they earn while in prison. States can generally garnish up to 50% of those earnings and apply them to outstanding restitution obligations.

Any convicted defendant on parole or probation may also have a certain amount or percentage that the court garnishes from their paycheck or requires them to pay each month.

You must understand how restitution works if you’re facing white-collar criminal charges. It may impact the defense strategies that you and your attorney craft in your case.