The Albany County Attorney’s Office is starting an initiative to install a system into the county courts system to ensure criminal defendants pay to compensate their victims, even if the defendants move out of state.
Albany County Prosecuting Attorney Peggy Trent said the terms of a guilty plea or verdict can sometimes require a defendant to pay for losses the victim or victims sustained in the commission of the crime, which is known as restitution.
“(An example of this is a) theft offense occurs — at that time, the victim-witness part of my office will reach out to the victim to determine the impact or the loss they have sustained,” Trent said. “Once we obtain the loss through receipts and have verification of that financial loss, it is communicated to the prosecutor as they prosecute the case, to ensure … we recover that amount.”
But the Attorney’s Office and District Court noticed restitution for victims decreased when defendants move out of Wyoming, she said. When defendants are not able to pay restitution, the state has to step in to help the victim, Trent said.
“Our cases where we have our defendants present in our community, we do an excellent job of keeping on them to make restitution,” she said. “When a defendant moves out of state, we are finding that we are not seeing the amount of restitution coming in to the victims to make them whole.”
Trent said the reason she found for the decrease in retributions from people outside of the state is the defendants are being charged for being on probation in other states.
“I learned that when our probationers go out of state, ordinarily the state they are going to are charging a fee to supervise our probationers,” Trent said. “That fee takes so much of their available funds to pay restitution.”
To find a way to prevent future instances of defendants outside of the state not paying restitutions, Trent looked to other communities to see how they handle this situation, she said. Trent said she learned the communities outside of the state handled it by using defendant’s assets to pay the victim and other ways to compensate the victim.
“I looked toward communities outside of Wyoming and how they are attempting to recover restitutions,” Trent said. “From that research, we put together a proposal to see if we could get funding to secure (a civil attorney) to attempt to reduce our restitution to victims into civil judgments in order to collect on those assets from probationers in other communities.”
She said she proposed bringing in an attorney into her office that would collect restitutions as a civil matter to make sure the victims pay without having it go through criminal court. The proposal was brought before the Wyoming Department of Corrections for a request to fund the position but it was rejected at this time, Trent said.
“We want to ensure that part of our role in our prosecution is restitution to victims,” Trent said.
“But at the same time, the court can’t be a debtors’ prison for locking up individuals as a result of the nonpayment of fines, but there has to be a medium of how to reconcile those funds.”
Along with affecting the victims, failing to pay restitution also affects state government, which has to compensate the victim with the Victim Compensation Fund instead of the defendant having to, she said. Trent said the Victim’s Compensation Fund is funded collected by fees during criminal prosecution and sometimes in these situation the defendant reimburses the fund.
“The restitution does not just simply go to our victims, it also goes to the Victim’s Compensation Fund from the state,” Trent said. “Sometimes the fund will reimburse the victim, and then the money stands in subrogation to get the money so that we collect for our state.”