Richard Evans was convicted of three felony charges. At sentencing, the trial court reserved jurisdiction over victim restitution. The District Attorney filed a restitution motion, seeking roughly $4,000 already paid by the California Victim Compensation Board to Evans’ victims. The trial court held a restitution hearing and ordered that Evans pay the full amount to the California Victim Compensation Board. Evans appealed, averring that the trial court was required to consider his ability to pay restitution to the victims in light of People v. Dueñas, 30 Cal. App. 5th 1157, 242 Cal. Rptr. 3d 268 (Ct. App. 2019), which held that a court must consider a defendant’s ability to pay before imposing certain fines and fees.
The defendant’s ability to pay is not relevant in fixing the amount of victim restitution. Restitution payments to victims are fundamentally different from the fines and fees involved in Dueñas. While restitution to the victim is based on a direct victim’s loss and compensates the victim for economic losses suffered as a result of the defendant’s crime, fines are set at the discretion of the court in an amount commensurate with the seriousness of the offense and go directly into state coffers. On one hand, the legislature and courts have made clear that victim restitution is intended as a civil remedy, not as a criminal punishment—in civil actions for compensatory damages, a defendant’s wealth is irrelevant to liability. On the other hand, a fine, is intended to be additional punishment for a crime. Given the significant differences in purpose and effect between victim restitution and the fines and fees at issue in Dueñas, the rule of Dueñas does not extend to victim restitution and a defendant’s ability to pay is not a proper factor to consider in setting a victim restitution award.
You can find relevant court documents here.