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Keep your restitution up to date (or get help fast)

Have you been ordered to pay restitution in a criminal case? If so, you need to understand your obligation -- and what happens if you don't pay up.

Restitution as a feature of a criminal sentence has become increasingly common -- especially where financial crimes are concerned. That being said, it isn't unusual to see restitution imposed in other criminal cases where property damage is involved, either. The money is designed to reimburse crime victims for their losses, which can be substantial. Defendants need to understand, however, that restitution isn't a legally binding agreement between themselves and the victims of their crimes. It's an agreement with the state -- one that the state takes very seriously.

Quite often, a defendant's ability to receive probation in lieu of jail time or the ability to gain parole is tied to his or her willingness to pay restitution. Fall behind on your restitution, and you can quickly find yourself in jail on a probation or parole violation -- which affords you fewer rights than you actually have at a criminal trial. For example, you have no right to a jury trial, and the prosecutor isn't required to prove you violated the terms of your agreement "beyond a reasonable doubt."

And the law has a very long memory. Take, for example, the case of "The Wolf of Wall Street," Jordan Belfort, who recently fell behind on the nearly $100 million restitution owed to victims of his stock scams. His agreement to pay stems from 1999 -- yet a judge recently claimed all of his earnings from his real estate business so that it could be paid back out where he owes.

Essentially, if you owe restitution, the government will expect you to pay up -- or go to jail. In general, you aren't likely to be jailed if you can demonstrate a true inability to repay. However, a judge is far more likely to work with you if you are proactive about your situation. If you're in a financial bind, don't hesitate to talk the situation over with your defense attorney, so you can strategize how to approach the court about your obligation and keep your agreement.

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329 South Guadalupe Street
San Marcos, TX 78666

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