Criminal convictions attract not only jail times but also fines and restitution. These last two are often confused; some people even think the two terms refer to the same things. While they may both refer to monetary payments the courts may order you to make upon conviction, they are widely different. Here are some of the major differences between the two:
Courts impose fines as a means of punishing criminal offenders, while restitution is meant to compensate criminal victims for their losses. Therefore, if you are convicted of drug possession, the court may order you to pay a fine to discourage you from repeating the offense. However, if you are convicted of vandalizing a storefront, you may be ordered to pay restitution so that the owner of the store can use the money to repair their premises.
As you can see, a situation may arise that requires you to pay both a fine and restitution. Consider an example where you are convicted of assaulting a neighbor. Suppose that during the fight you ended up damaging your neighbor's expensive smartphone. In this case, you can be fined to discourage you from assaulting another person, and you may be ordered to pay restitution so the victim can get a similar smartphone. Restitution can also be ordered for other out-of-pocket losses, such as medical expenses and lost wages.
Fines and restitution go to different parties. Since restitution is meant to compensate the victim of a crime, the money goes directly to the victim. However, fines go directly to government coffers; the government arm that is prosecuting the crime, federal or state, receives the money.
Lastly, courts determine restitution and fines in different ways. Fines are generally predetermined amounts that are automatically assigned to anybody who loses a case. For example, under the federal system, a first-time offender convicted of heroin possession must pay a fine of $5,000. In some cases, states provide limits and leave it to the court to determine the exact fine to impose.
However, restitution doesn't have predetermined limits because it all depends on the economic losses of the victim. Such losses vary from case to case, which is why setting monetary limits may not work. States generally specify the losses that can be compensated, but not how much they should be compensated for.
In many cases, convictions attract both fines and restitution. Therefore, you can end up paying a lot of money if you don't defend yourself properly during the proceedings. Having a criminal defense attorney from a law firm like King Law Firm may help you minimize these payments, for example, by helping you avoid the maximum fine.