Crime Victims: Civil Remedies and Restitution

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If you have been a victim of a crime, you may find yourself seeking justice in two separate systems:  civil and criminal.  In the civil arena, you may seek to recover money damages for physical, emotional and economic harm caused by the wrongdoer.  In the criminal arena, the prosecutor acts on behalf of the State of Arizona to punish the criminal defendant.  Victims have constitutionally protected rights throughout this process. However, it is important to understand that there are limitations on a victim’s financial recovery in the criminal justice system.

A crime victim has a powerful voice in the criminal justice system. Under the Arizona Constitution, a victim has the right to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect, to confer with the prosecutor, to have input in plea offers and sentencing, to address the court at sentencing and to receive restitution for out-of-pocket losses only.  Our firm helps crime victims exercise these rights by providing counsel and may appear in the criminal justice proceedings to provide input.  If appropriate, we may help to exercise these rights in a way that preserves our clients’ rights to seek monetary civil remedies against the wrongdoer or others in the civil justice system.

In the civil justice system, offenders are held accountable, not to the State, but specifically to the victims who suffered because of the crime. However, in the criminal justice system victims have no authority to direct the prosecution of the case; the prosecutor does not represent the victim, and the victim is not a client of the prosecutor.  Regardless of whether there was a successful criminal prosecution, or any prosecution at all, victims can bring their claims before a civil court  to hold the responsible parties accountable.

Victims may also consider suing perpetrators or other responsible parties. Some examples of other parties who might share some responsibility for the crime include business owners who fail to provide security measures, adults who allow children access to firearms, bar owners who serve alcohol to intoxicated persons and childcare providers who allow children to come into harm’s way.

While money awarded in civil lawsuits can never fully compensate a victim for their suffering or the loss of a loved one, it can help victims rebuild their lives.

Crime victim remedies may be available to victims of the following felony and misdemeanor offenses:

  • Vehicular Crimes (manslaughter/negligent homicide, drunk driving, reckless driving)
  • Weapons Offenses/Shootings
  • Assault/Aggravated Assault
  • Theft
  • Forgery/Fraud/Embezzlement
  • Arson
  • Identity Theft
  • Business & Commercial Fraud

We frequently assist our clients who have been victimized by crime to evaluate the most appropriate course of action based on the facts and circumstances of their case.

Nicole, a registered nurse, was driving home one evening when she was hit by a drunk driver. She suffered fractures to both legs, and was rendered wheelchair bound. The drunk driver was initially charged with misdemeanor DUI. Through our efforts, the prosecution dismissed the misdemeanor charges in order to refile a felony case against the drunk driver. Nicole has both a restitution remedy as a crime victim and a separate right to file a civil lawsuit against the drunk driver.

Tony was at a house party when his friend, who was intoxicated, shot him in the leg, severely injuring him. The shooter was charged and convicted of a felony offense and served a lengthy prison sentence. Tony, through our efforts, filed a civil lawsuit against the shooter. The evidence gathered by the prosecution in the criminal case was of great value in Tony’s civil lawsuit, ultimately leading to a successful resolution.