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How do criminal offenders pay victims restitution?

Crime victims in Iowa sometimes pay a terrible price, whether it results in serious injury, damage or loss of property or other intangibles. Victims should not have to face the aftermath of suffering a crime without assistance, which is why Iowa law requires those convicted of a crime to pay restitution to their victims. While most people do not object to this principle of the criminal justice system, there may be times when those convicted of a crime are forced to pay excessive and unreasonable restitution amounts, even if they are not responsible for the costs incurred.

According to the Iowa Attorney General, restitution can include medical bills, counseling, lost wages, lost or damaged property and even transportation costs for a victim. In addition, those convicted of a homicide must pay at least $150,000 in restitution.

While victims should be made whole, the offender shouldn't be forced to pay punitive amounts of restitution which conceivably take them the rest of their lives to repay. For many offenders, repaying full restitution amounts is a practical impossibility. If incarcerated, most offenders are only able to repay restitution from the amounts they earn from their prison-based jobs, which is often well below the prevailing minimum wage. If released, they may have trouble securing a job and rebuilding their lives, especially if their restitution obligations make it impossible to support themselves at the same time. To compound things, a person can be held on probation or parole indefinitely until their restitution is repaid, meaning a person may become stuck in a state of perpetual probation while an unattainable and unreasonable restitution payment looms over their head.

People convicted of a crime have a right to challenge the restitution order at sentencing or at any other time restitution is ordered. If the restitution order is unreasonable, with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, it can be challenged resulting in possible dismissal or reduction of the restitution obligation.

Source: Iowa Attorney General, "Restitution," accessed on Dec. 29, 2014

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