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Ensuring Full Restitution for Crime Victims: Polyvictims as a Case Study in Overcoming Causation Challenges

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2013
10 pages
After reviewing the purposes and policy rationale for full restitution for crime victims, this bulletin discusses the legal parameters for determining whether and how much restitution is warranted, followed by a discussion and a case study of restitution for "polyvictims" (persons who have experienced multiple victimizations of different kinds at various points during a lifetime).
Restitution is intended not only as a means of remedying the victim's financial and emotional costs due to the crime, but also can contribute to the offender's rehabilitation. Facing up to the harms the offender has caused the victim and requiring the offender to be responsible for partially remedying those harms can be important factors in changing the behaviors that caused the harm. A key part of any court analysis of whether and how much restitution is warranted is determining whether an individual qualifies as a crime "victim" in the jurisdiction, as well as whether the defendant is legally responsible for the victim's losses. The "victim" need not be named in the charging document in order to be considered a victim. A recipient of restituion may not have been the target of the crime, but may still have suffered harm that would not have occurred except for the crime. Legal causation underlying an offender's responsibility for restitution requires proving that the harm toward which the restitution is directed would not have occurred except for the criminal conduct of the defendant. This is a key concept in cases that involve polyvictims. As a result of multiple criminal victimizations, a victim may have long-term mental and physical costs that make a current victimization more devastating than for a first-time victim. This paper argues that the court analysis should not be tempered by what some would consider a polyvictim's overreaction to the crime.