Restitution is when a court orders a defendant to pay a crime victim for their financial losses related to the crime. Unlike civil law, restitution is typically limited to the costs that the victim actually incurred. In a recent Arizona murder case, the state’s high court discussed the constitutional limits on the court’s ability to place a cap on the amount of restitution in a criminal case absent the victim’s consent. However, unlike the vast majority of criminal cases, this case discussed the crime victim’s constitutional rights, rather than the defendant. Of course, the court’s decision impacts criminal defendants in that it increases the amount of potential restitution they could be forced to pay.
The Facts of the Case
A detailed recitation of the fact is not necessary to fully understand the import of the court’s opinion. However, in summary, three defendants were charged with abusing and killing a younger family member. All three defendants plead guilty to a lesser offense. As a part of the plea agreement, the defendant would pay the victim’s family restitution. However, under the terms of the plea agreement, the maximum amount of restitution is limited to $500,000. The victim’s family objected to the cap on restitution, but the court upheld the cap and proceeded with the pleas. The victim’s family appealed the lower court’s decision.
On appeal, the court first addressed the state’s argument that the court should wait to see if the cap on restitution actually limited the recovery amount. However, the court rejected this argument, noting that there is no requirement for caps on restitution.