Monday, November 20, 2006
Help Me Howard: Restitution
Here is a simple question: A judge orders a crook that robs you to pay restitution -- which means you will get the money, right? Wrong. In fact, as one state attorney's office told us, restitution is a disgrace -- but what can you do if the judge will not force someone to pay restitution? There is a solution, which is why we keep Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser around.
WSVN -- Cari has what most of us do not realize we do not have -- musical talent.
Hand her a guitar, and she rips out rock.
Put her in front of a piano and out pours a classic.
But Cari is also smart -- and knows a love of music will not pay the bills.
Cari Breves: "I have sort of given up on pursuing a music career to do my college education."
In fact, it was while she was in a history class that she got hit.
Cari Breves: "I came home from school to find my door kicked in and my house robbed."
The thief got her good, stealing electronic equipment, CDs, DVDs and, most importantly, family jewelry.
Cari Breves: "Well, I had jewelry that my father had given to my mom -- and my father passed away in 2000 from cancer -- and it was just jewelry that could never be replaced."
Months later the burglar was caught -- a 15-year-old boy who confessed -- and according to Cari's court documents, agreed to pay $5,013 in restitution.
Cari Breves: "And it would be paid in $50 monthly installments until it was paid off."
But after paying $100 the teenager quit paying.
After Cari complained, a hearing was scheduled in Broward court -- but the kid didn't show up -- this court document says because of suicide attempts.
Cari Breves: "His excuse for not paying is that he is bi-polar, and it makes him unable to work."
That same document says the victim, Cari, wants the child to make larger payments, but he never made another payment. So Cari started trying to get the Broward court to enforce their restitution order.
Cari Breves: "And out of hundreds of messages, I have not received one call back at all."
Cari says she is not exaggerating -- not one phone call returned by anyone in the bureaucracy.
Patrick Fraser: "You left hundreds of messages?"
Cari Breves: "Hundreds of messages, never one call back."
Patrick Fraser: "No one can say you give up easily."
Cari Breves: "No, I do not give up easily."
And proof she is not giving up: Cari called us to see if the courts can ignore their own order to repay a victim.
Let's talk to Howard.
Howard Finkelstein: "No, they can't ignore their order. However, the court loses the power to force the juvenile to pay restitution when the teenager turns 19 -- unless the judge, the State Attorney or the Department of Juvenile Justice requests that the court's power be extended indefinitely, and that did not happened in this case."
When I talked to the Broward State Attorney's Office they were blunt.
They told me the way the legislature set up the system to force juveniles to pay restitution is a disgrace -- that what happened to Cari happens to thousands of people who expect restitution.
In Cari's case, I was told it appears the judge ruled the crook was not capable of paying and let him off the hook.
The bottom line in the state attorney's opinion -- the system is broken and it's very frustrating for the victims and us.
Sadly, in many cases, restitution is a mirage.
Howard Finkelstein: "Restitution is not a guarantee. Criminal courts cannot force someone to pay if they don't have the ability -- and, to be blunt, public defenders and defense attorneys often fight restitution. That is why the victims need to protect themselves by suing the defendants personally, and those judgements don't expire for quite a while."
And there is still time for Cari to sue the crook to get her money back.
Attorney Jason Turchin -- who is a victim's rights lawyer -- has agreed to meet with her to help her out.
That's good for Cari, who says the state, which is paid to help her, let her down.
Cari Breves: "They have never done anything to help me. I feel like I have been a victim on both ends."
Patrick Fraser: "Howard says even if a crook agrees to pay you restitution, you can file in Civil Court because sometimes the statute of limitations expires. And when that happens, if the court lets the crook off the hook -- like they did in Cari's case -- you could be out of luck. Fortunately, Cari is not out of luck."
Someone stuck it to you? Want payback? Contact us. We cannot afford restitution, but we can re-situate your case.
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