Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Help Me Howard: Restitution
A woman's daughter was beaten so badly at school that she had to go to the emergency room. The girl who hit her ordered to pay the bill. But this family is still waiting for the money. Can Howard help? Here's tonight's Help Me Howard.
WSVN -- Making it day to day when you are unemployed is tough. Toss raising a teenage daughter into it and the difficulty level can soar.
Sonia Prieto: "I haven't been working in four months, so I'm just struggling day by day."
The worst day for Sonia Prieto came when her 16-year-old daughter got home from school with a black eye.
Sonia Prieto: "When I saw her, I was in shock. Her eye was so big and swollen."
Angelica had been waiting for the bus when a girl she had an argument with at school confronted her.
Sonia Prieto: "She just came, bam, and swang at her."
After Sonia took her daughter to the emergency to make sure she was OK, she called the police.
Sonia Prieto: "I told the police officer that I wanted to press charges."
Sonia did. Then, she called the school security officer and was amazed when he told her Angelica had been bullied by the attacker.
Sonia Prieto: "When I talked to the security guard, he said, 'Oh yes, your daughter came a few days ago and told me that this girl was bothering her, but I didn't pay no attention to it.'"
That irritated Sonia, and she was infuriated when the school suspended Angelica because she tried to defend herself when she was being punched.
Sonia Prieto: "The school was not very helpful."
But at least the attacker was sent to a juvenile center and was told she had to pay the medical bills that came from the punch she gave Angelica.
Sonia Prieto: "I was able to get some kind of restitution so I could pay the bills or anything that occurred during that time."
Well you can guess where this is going. The accused puncher has never paid a dime.
Sonia Prieto: "Just last week, they called me and they told me that they couldn't help me."
Turns out the girl was tossed out of the juvenile program for, believe it or not, not being able to follow the rules. And when she walked out of the program, their ability to force her to pay restitution walked with her.
Sonia Prieto: "And I'm thinking, this is just awful."
It seems awful to Sonia, but Howard, is it legal for an attacker to just walk away from restitution?
Howard Finkelstein: "Restitution is almost always part of a sentence imposed by the courts, but since this juvenile was sent to a diversion program, since she was kicked out, she doesn't have to pay the restitution unless she is prosecuted by the state attorney's office."
After the girl was kicked out of the diversion program, the case was sent to the Broward State Attorney's Office. A spokesman told us, they decided not to file charges, because they were not sure who started the fight. Angelica didn't get her restitution, but Howard says cases like this are rare.
Howard Finkelstein: "When the accused fails in a diversionary program, they are almost always prosecuted. That did not happen in this case. Normally, if you are prosecuted and convicted, you can't get off probation until you pay the restitution."
As an unemployed mother, the money would have been nice for Sonia. But her bigger concern? The danger kids face in what used to be a safe place: a school.
Sonia Prieto: "I'm going to be sending my daughter to school, and I have to worry about someone hurting her? No."
Patrick Fraser: "Now Howard says you can't get off probation unless you pay restitution. I hear from people all the time who say, the crook is free and I never got restitution. Because there is a loophole in the law that says, if you can't afford restitution, you don't have to pay restitution. The law requires it; the law doesn't require it. Makes sense to me, too."
Feel it's a crime the way you have been treated? Ready for a little legal pay back? Contact us. We can't break out a checkbook, but we will try to help you cash in.