February 23, 2024

What’s the Difference Between Restitution and a Civil Judgment?

3 min read

Criminal and civil court have some similarities. But they have a lot more differences. Those differences often lead to misunderstandings among the different parties in a given case. Take a criminal case in which a conviction carries with it some sort of restitution. Though the restitution could ultimately lead to a civil judgment, the two are not the same.

Restitution is a criminal matter. A civil judgment, as its name implies, is a civil matter. Both matters are the domain of their respective courts. A criminal case involving conviction and restitution could ultimately lead to a civil case wherein a judgment is rendered. But civil litigation isn’t a foregone conclusion following criminal cases.

When a Criminal Is Convicted

Criminal courts deal with criminal actions and charges. When a criminal is convicted, sentencing follows. Certain types of crimes result in the need for the convicted criminal to make some sort of restitution. Such restitution may or may not be combined with criminal penalties, like jail time and fines.

Imagine a driver convicted of DUI after an accident that caused major property damage to a local business. In addition to a heavy fine and suspension of his driver’s license, the criminal is ordered to pay restitution to help cover the costs of repairing the damage. The restitution is over and above the penalty incurred by the crime itself. Imposing restitution is a way to alleviate some of the harm caused by the driver’s actions.

When a Civil Trial Is Held

A civil trial does not involve any criminal charges. Interestingly, it can allege criminal activity resulting in some sort of harm to the plaintiff. Still, charges have not been filed and no prosecution has occurred. The plaintiff merely seeks a judgment as relief for some sort of harm caused by the defendant.

Using the previous example, assume the driver was never charged with DUI because prosecutors did not have enough evidence to move forward. No charges mean no criminal case. No criminal case means the court cannot order restitution. Yet the property owner can still take the driver to civil court for relief.

A civil court can enter a judgment on behalf of the property owner. That judgment recognizes the validity of the defendant’s debt and compels him to pay up. But that’s as far as it goes. Collection efforts, also known as enforcement, is left to the plaintiff and its representatives.

Restitution Can Lead to a Judgment

It is possible for an order of restitution to lead to a civil case and subsequent judgment. The experts at Judgment Collectors, a Utah debt collection agency that specializes in judgments, says this sort of thing happens more frequently than people know. For an explanation, we will continue with the same example.

Imagine the convicted driver is ordered to pay restitution to the property owner, but then fails to make that restitution in a timely manner. The property owner wants access to additional legal tools that will help in its collection efforts. To get those tools, a civil lawsuit is filed. Upon winning a judgment, the property owner can now utilize things like wage garnishment and property seizure to secure payment.

Judgment Collectors says plaintiffs sometimes turn to civil court because the restitution ordered by the criminal court proves insufficient. Plaintiffs want additional monetary relief or even punitive damages. They turn to civil court to give them what criminal court cannot.

Utilizing civil court is necessary because restitution and judgments are not the same thing. There may be a fine line distinguishable only by criminal and civil court differences, but that’s irrelevant.