In many states, the law requires that offenders pay their victims restitution, or reimbursement for the losses victims suffered as a result of the crimes committed. It is extremely difficult, and often impossible, to negotiate restitution, since the courts are obligated by statute to order an amount of restitution that covers the damage or loss caused by the defendant's offense.
Restitution is mandatory for many types of federal crimes, including all crimes of violence and property offenses. For state crimes, the judge may have more discretion on whether to order restitution; it depends on state law. The amount of restitution is based on the victim's actual monetary loss and may include such items as lost income, child care, travel expenses, property damage, counseling expenses and medical bills. Restitution is always based on the victim's actual loss as evidenced by receipts and other verification. The courts do not take into account the offender's ability to pay.
Reducing the Restitution Amount
Because restitution is linked to the victim's out-of-pocket expenses, the court cannot arbitrarily reduce the amount of restitution. This means that even if your income drops to zero, the obligation to pay restitution does not fall away. The Financial Litigation Unit of the U.S. Attorney's Office is responsible for collecting restitution payments. This agency is empowered to pursue all available enforcement, including garnishing wages, levying bank accounts and seizing your personal property. If you willfully refuse to pay restitution, you may face criminal charges.
Modifying the Payment Schedule
Ideally, the restitution should be paid as a single lump sum, but the court can provide for payment by installments on certain dates. When setting a payment plan, the court generally uses a means test to verify what you can afford to pay each month based on a percentage of your income and assets. If you lose your job or your expenses suddenly go up, you may be able to persuade the court to adjust your payment schedule. You'll need to contact your probation or parole officer, who may decide to place you on the court list. Authorization for a modified payment plan is up to the discretion of the judge.
Getting the Victim's Consent
In most states, once you have served your sentence and are no longer on probation or supervised release, the restitution order may be converted to a civil judgment. This means that the criminal court is no longer involved in the restitution, and the victim is in charge of collecting the debt himself. In theory, you could ask the victim to forgive some or all of the restitution. However, the victim is under no obligation to speak with you, and forgiven restitution may be treated as taxable income, so you should consider the tax consequences before you start negotiations.