When determining a sentence for a criminal conviction in Washington state, a judge generally considers the monetary fine and term of imprisonment allowed by statute, as well as alternatives like probation. Washington law also allows a judge to order a defendant to make payments to the alleged victim of an offense for injuries or property loss. This monetary amount is known as “restitution,” and state law requires a judge to order it in certain situations. Another law relating to compensation of crime victims requires a court to order additional monetary damages upon conviction of certain crimes. An experienced Washington criminal defense lawyer with knowledge of Washington’s restitution laws can help minimize the impact of a restitution order by reducing the amount of the order or developing a manageable payment schedule.
What is Restitution?
Restitution, as defined by Washington law, is a sum of money assessed by a court during the sentencing phase of a trial, along with a schedule of payment. The total amount may include both public costs related to the criminal case, and private costs related to a victim’s claimed damages. State law requires an order of restitution for any offense that results in injury to a person or loss of a person’s property. The amount ordered must be based on “easily ascertainable damages,”and may take into account damage to or loss of property, treatment expenses for injuries, and lost wages due to injuries. It may not include “intangible losses” like pain and suffering or mental anguish. The total amount usually may not exceed two times the total amount of the defendant’s gain or the victim’s loss attributable to the offense, although state law makes exceptions for certain sex-related offenses.
Payment of Restitution
In addition to setting an amount of restitution, the court must also establish a payment schedule, taking into account the defendant’s ability to pay. Probation officers are authorized to recommend changes in the payment schedule to the court, based on changes in the defendant’s circumstances. This could include both reductions and increases in monthly payments, but not changes in the total amount owed.
Challenges to Restitution
A defendant has the opportunity to present evidence regarding restitution during the sentencing phase of trial. The state must demonstrate that the amount of restitution represents the victim’s actual damages, and that those damages resulted directly from the criminal offense. The defendant may present evidence to challenge the state’s allegations. The payment schedule is also subject to challenge, both during sentencing and during probation, as circumstances may change for a defendant.
Crime Victims’ Compensation Act
In addition to restitution orders, Washington’s crime victims’ compensation act requires courts to assess a fine upon conviction of certain offenses, which goes toward a statewide fund. The amount of the fine ranges from $250 for misdemeanor convictions to $500 for felony convictions.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Tacoma, Seattle or elsewhere in Washington, you need the assistance of a Washington criminal defense attorney who is familiar with the state’s legal system. We have represented the rights of criminal defendants throughout western Washington for over twenty years, providing a vigorous challenge to the state’s allegations and helping clients achieve plea agreements, substantially reduced sentences, dismissals, and acquittals. Contact us today for your confidential case evaluation, or call (888) 212-4824.