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Victimized twice: Court ordered restitution treats criminals better than their victims

WPEC

CBS12 Investigates found thousands of victims in Palm Beach County not getting the money the judge ordered, and not getting the justice they deserve.

If you have been a victim of a crime, you may be owed restitution.

A judge can order financial restitution when they hand down a sentence.

But, getting that money can be another ordeal altogether.

CBS 12 investigates found many victims getting victimized a second time because the government does not enforce the original court order.

OWED RESTITUTION

“My heart is never going to be the same,” Peggy Hernandez said.

Hernandez is still mourning the loss of her son, Ty.

A judge sentenced Ty’s killer to 30 years in prison and ordered him to pay $5,000 for Ty’s funeral.

“If he had to pay it, it might remind him a little bit every day of what he did," Hernandez said.

But, she does not expect to see that money.

“This is the way a lot of the cases go, we were told ahead of time,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez was warned ahead of time, and we wanted to know why.

Who is making sure convicted criminal pay court-ordered restitution?

WHO’S IN CHARGE

CBS12 Investigates contacted the local probation office - they don’t.

Then we asked the Department of Corrections - they don’t either.

Then we asked the court system - same story.

Bottom line, no one keeps track of whether or not a criminal pays their victim restitution.

We investigated further and ran a special query in the County Clerk’s office.

We found in Palm Beach County, there are almost 2890 cases, totaling $2,899,753 in unpaid restitution.

Since 2012, criminal have paid only $190,493 in restitution - a small fraction of what’s owed.

Former state attorney Elizabeth Parker said she’s seen firsthand victims go without getting paid.

“It is really difficult in Florida because if someone does not have the ability to pay, say they lose their job, have child support obligations, they have other issues affecting their economic stature; they cannot be held by the court to be required to pay that restitution,” Parker said.

Under Florida law, the state can actually deduct restitution from the offender’s paycheck, much like child support.

But, Parker said she’s never seen that actually happen. Instead, those who fail to pay rarely face any serious consequence, and ultimately it becomes the victim’s responsibility to follow up.

POSSIBLE RESOLUTION

We took the problem directly to State Representative Matt Willhite.

"I think it is discouraging to hear that many family members are left with the burden of this themselves."

Fielding our questions, Rep Willhite said he would look into the issue.

He thinks the solution may be to set up a payment plan for criminals, as soon as, they are released from prison, and make sure they do it.

"Obviously someone took someone to court for a reason, and they won. So, even by winning here, you're losing."

Sometimes a criminal does pay restitution, but the victim can’t be found.

When that happens, the money is sent to the state’s unclaimed money fund where it stays until it’s claimed.

Last fiscal year that was about half a million dollars.

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