What is restitution?

Restitution is money that you are ordered to pay to victims and to the state if you are convicted of a crime. Restitution is intended to repay the victims for the harm they suffered, and to repay your debt to society. Judges are required to order restitution if you are convicted of a crime, regardless of whether you can afford to pay. Restitution is the most serious type of court-ordered debt and the hardest to get rid of.[2145]

There are 3 main TYPES OF RESTITUTION:

To make things even more complicated, there are different types of restitution—each with a different purpose. The three main types of restitution are: (1) VICTIM RESTITUTION (also called Direct Orders of Restitution): Victim restitution goes to the victim(s) of your crime to repay any harm caused or losses suffered because of your actions. If your crime involved injury to a person, property damage, or economic loss, you will have to pay victim restitution.[2146] Usually the court orders victim restitution at the time of sentencing, however, the court can order it at any time afterward, if needed.[2147] This means that even if the judge did NOT order victim restitution when you were sentenced, he or she can still order it later—and you will still have to pay it! (2) RESTITUTION FINES: Restitution fines go to the state to repay your debt to society. Everyone who is convicted of a crime MUST pay a restitution fine, so if you have a conviction—regardless of whether it was a misdemeanor or a felony—you have to pay a restitution fine.[2148]In some situations, even if you were never convicted, you may still have to pay a restitution fine. For example, if your case was dismissed because you successfully completed a diversion program (i.e. drug treatment or anger management) or you received a deferred entry of judgment (DEJ), you will still be ordered to pay a restitution fine.[2149] Also, if some of your charges were dismissed as part of a plea bargain, you still may have to pay restitution on the dismissed charges![2150](3) REVOCATION RESTITUTION FINES: If you are sentenced to any type of supervision (parole, mandatory supervision, Post Release Community Supervision, or probation), the court will impose a revocation restitution fine. However, this fine is suspended unless you violate the conditions of your supervision and your supervision is revoked. This means you do not have to pay this fine unless your supervision is revoked.[2151]

IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT VICTIM RESTITUTION: Victim restitution never goes away. It is not discharged in bankruptcy,[2152] and you will continue to owe any unpaid victim restitution even after you have completed your sentence and term of supervision. You must continue paying restitution when the victim dies, and must pay even if the victim never claimed restitution. The only way to get rid of victim restitution is to pay it off.[2153]


  1. 2145

    Cal. Penal Code § 1202.4(b)-(g).

  2. 2146

    Cal. Penal Code § 1202.4(a) & (f).

  3. 2147

    Cal. Penal Code §§ 1202.4(f), 1202.46 (The court may order victim restitution at a later time if the victim’s losses are not yet determined at the time of sentencing).

  4. 2148

    Cal. Penal Code § 1202.4(b).

  5. 2149

    Cal. Penal Code § 1001.90.

  6. 2150

    Cal. Penal Code § 1192.3; People v. Harvey, 25 Cal.3d 754 (1979).

  7. 2151

    Cal. Penal Code §§ 1202.4, 1202.44, 1202.45.

  8. 2152

    11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(7).

  9. 2153

    Prior to 2008, judges had statutory authority under Penal Code sections 1203.3(b)(4) and 1202.4 to waive restitution for any “extraordinary or compelling reason.” California’s adoption of Marsy’s Law amended the state constitution to remove all language allowing the waiver of victim restitution, thereby “effectively negat[ing]” the above statutory provisions. See Cal. Judge’s Benchguide § 83.77 (2014).