A law enforcement officer puts up police tape at a crime scene in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Jan. 24, 2023. (Samantha Laurey/AFP via Getty Images)
Victims of violent crimes in California who have suffered physical or emotional injuries have received restitution since 1965 under what’s known as a victim compensation program, the first of such in the nation. While all U.S. states now have similar programs, California recently updated its version.
Under the previous law, reimbursement—paid for by criminals and federal matching funds—for victim’s medical bills, wage loss, outpatient mental health treatment, counseling and more were covered for physical injuries. But those who only suffered psychologically—what lawmakers call an “emotional injury”—were not qualified unless suffering a handful of crimes.
Now, after Assembly Bill 56, authored by Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R–Palmdale), was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom Oct. 8, compensation for emotional injuries has been extended to include “mayhem, torture, kidnapping, aggravated kidnapping, kidnapping in the commission of a carjacking, extortion by posing as a kidnapper, assault with intent to commit a sex offense, [group rape], aggravated sexual assault of a child, sexual acts with a child under 10, stalking, attempted murder, and murder.”
Those eligible include direct victims of the crime, or those who have a relationship with the victim and have had expenses because of the victim’s death or injury.
“Assembly Bill 56 expands compensation for psychological damage to help assist with developing a continuum of care for affected individuals. This is a necessary step in helping governmental systems serve victim-survivors, who too often feel as though the structure is set up against them,” Mr. Lackey said in a Senate analysis of the bill.
Currently, reimbursement is capped at $75,000, but will increase to $100,000 beginning July 1, 2024.
Police investigate the scene of a crime in Orange, Calif., on April 1, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Under the existing law, those who qualified for the program included victims of “human trafficking, rape child abuse, lewd and lascivious acts with a child, continuous sexual abuse of a minor, cyber harassment, coercing a minor to appear in child pornography, statutory rape, child abduction, and deprivation of child custody,” according to the same analysis.
In support of the bill, the California District Attorneys Association—which represents elected district attorneys, city attorneys, and criminal divisions and prosecutors statewide—said that expanded law will help bring the state law in closer alignment with the California Constitution, according to a Senate Public Safety analysis of the bill.
“It is the unequivocal intention of the People of the State of California that all persons who suffer losses as a result of criminal activity shall have the right to seek and secure restitution from the persons convicted of the crimes causing the losses they suffer,” the state’s Constitution reads.
The association said based on the Constitution, restitution should result from both physical and emotional harms.
“This constitutional provision does not differentiate between economic and non-economic losses. Your bill will bring the Penal Code into closer alignment with our Constitution and ensure just compensation for those who suffer psychological harm from a criminal’s violent acts,” the association wrote in support of the bill.
The California Attorneys for Criminal Justice—a nonprofit of criminal defense attorneys—was against the bill and instead recommended the state create a state-funded system, where a judge would have discretion to impose such restitution fees.
“Such a system would expedite getting payments to victims and offer judge’s discretion they currently lack to consider a defendant’s ability to pay before imposing a restitution order,” the organization said in the same analysis.