Sunday, June 22, 2008

Criminal Restitution Orders as Civil Judgments

Sometimes a judge will order a person convicted of a crime to pay restitution to the victim for the victim's losses. This can range from a father forced to pay a college/victim his son's savings bond for fraudulently submitting a false financial aid application, to a thief who is forced to pay his victim for the value of the property he stole. Under PL 15-46, 6 CMC 4109(h)(new in the 2007 pocket part), we have a statute which says that a restitution order is a "judgment lien" that attaches to the property of the person subject to the order; may be perfected; and may be enforced against a probationer as if the order were a civil judgment enforceable by execution...." It appears that this type of restitution order can be enforced through a writ or order in aid of judgment before the same judge who handled the criminal case (and under the same index number). After taking a look at the Superior Court cases on the Law Revision site, I did not come up with any case where this has been done. So I took a general survey of US cases. It appears that when a statute authorizes victims of crime to enforce restitution orders as if they were civil judgments, the victim can use the restitution order to obtain further relief to force compliance--and, importantly, this can be done without an initial hearing or finding of noncompliance. See State v. Wiens, 77 Wn. App. 651, 656-657 (Wash. Ct. App. 1995). There is no need to start a new action, civil or criminal, to enforce a restitution order as if it was a judgment. See United States v. Mays, 430 F.3d 963, 967 (9th Cir. Cal. 2005). We have yet to see how the CNMI Superior Court will deal with this issue. I will be updating this post when I find out--stay tuned.

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