Highlight the Right: Restitution
The right to full and timely restitution paid to the victim first and in full before any government fees or costs
Along with the mental and physical effects of victimization, financial hardship can also result from becoming the victim of a crime. Victims are often forced to pay for medical bills, property damage, heightened security, lost wages, lost property and additional related expenses. A report by the CDC concluded that “the annual health-related costs of rape, physical assault, stalking and homicide by intimate partners [exceeds] $5.8 billion each year.[i] It further concluded that “[e]ach year, victims of intimate partner violence lose nearly eight million days of paid work because of the violence – the equivalent of over 32,000 full-time jobs.”[ii] It is because of these types of astronomical costs for victims that federal courts have opined that the “primary and overarching goal” of victim restitution “is to make victims of crime whole, to fully compensate [them] for their losses and to restore [victims] to their original state of well-being.”[iii] The financial effects on victims of crime is a core reason restitution is an accepted and available means court-imposed accountability for offenders, and victims deserve to have the right to restitution protected by the state constitution.
Along with compensating the victim for lost expenses, restitution also has a restorative justice element. When a sentencing court orders restitution to be paid to the victim, the restitution owed becomes part of the offender’s sentence and is required to be paid as a condition of the sentence being completed.”[iv] Even the Iowa Supreme Court has weighed in on the importance of restitution as recently as 2001 when it noted that “[r]estitution serves multiple purposes. It compensates the victim […] [and] is rehabilitative in nature.”[v]
Thankfully in Iowa, our statute is quite comprehensive in its discussion of restitution.[vi] However, unfortunately, the statutory law has no meaningful enforcement mechanism when violations occur. A change that requires courts consider full and timely requested restitution would immediately recognize the loss to the victim with an actual monetary award and set forth an appropriate payment plan considering the circumstances of the defendant. Previously the state contracted with a collections agency which charged a 25% collections fee to collect the restitution from the offender, monies that were taken directly from the victim’s award or that might otherwise also be applied to court fees. Due to recent statutory changes, the state now will use the Department of Revenue to collect restitution from offenders. When a restitution order is being ignored by a defendant, a victim could request that a court review the circumstances to see if the defendant has the ability to pay and is willfully choosing not to do so. Affording victims a constitutionally protected enforcement mechanism creates a system in which every attempt is made to make victims whole.
Marsy’s Law for Iowa elevates the victim’s right to full and timely restitution to a constitutional level and stipulates constitutionally that all victim restitution must be paid first and in full before any government fees or other costs. This ensures that victims have legal standing to enforce their rights in court should the government or offender violate the collection and payment of restitution. Becoming the victim of a crime should not be the cause of financial ruin and a victim’s right to restitution is imperative to their overall protection in the criminal justice system.
[i] Cost of Crime and Victimization. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Victims of Crime (2005) https://www.ncjrs.gov/ovc_archives/ncvrw/2005/pg5b.html#:~:text=The%20direct%20tangible%20costs%20to,cost%20to%20%24450%20billion%20annually; See also Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States. Centers for Disease Control, Dept. of Health and Human Services, Natl. Center for Injury Prevention and Control (2003) https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/IPVBook-a.pdf.
[iii] United States v. Gordon, 393 F.3d 1044. 1053 (9th Cir. 2004).
[iv] People v. Hall-Wilson, 505 N.E.2d 584, 585 (N.Y. 1987).
[v] State v. Bonstetter, 637 N.W.2d 161, 166 (Iowa 2001).
[vi] Iowa Code § 915.100