A civil compromise is where a court or the prosecutor agrees to dismiss a criminal charge because the defendant compensates the victim for any losses or damages caused by the crime. The arrangement happens most often in cases involving hit and run, vandalism, shoplifting or petty theft.
- A judge dismisses a shoplifting charge, under PC 459.5, filed against Lisa, after she agrees to pay Costco $150 for the alcohol she stole.
- Jose beats a vandalism charge, filed under PC 594 after he keyed Sarah’s car, by paying her $500 for the damages he caused to her auto.
- After being charged with petty theft, per PC 484(a), the judge dismisses the charge once Richard pays Doug $250 for the radio he took from him.
California Penal Code 1377 states that civil compromises are not authorized in every misdemeanor case. Under this code section, a CC is not allowed when a misdemeanor is committed against:
- a police officer,
- a child, or
- an elder.
Please note that prosecutors do not have to always consent to a compromise. Further, criminal defense attorneys will sometimes use certain strategies to secure one.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. What is a civil compromise in a California criminal case?
- 2. What are the benefits of a CC?
- 3. Are there certain misdemeanor cases where a compromise is not allowed?
- 4. Will a civil compromise always stop a prosecutor from pursuing a case?
- 5. What types of cases are civil compromises most common or effective in?
- 6. Are there defense strategies for successfully securing or entering into a compromise?
1. What is a civil compromise in a California criminal case?
A CC is a legal process where a judge can dismiss a criminal offense charge if:
- the crime committed was a misdemeanor; and,
- the victim of the crime gets reimbursed, by the defendant, for any damages he suffered.1
Please note that for a civil compromise to even be available, an act must result in both criminal and civil liability.
In civil compromises, once an injured party is reimbursed for any losses or damages, the following events typically occur:
- the victim appears before the court where the criminal case is pending2;
- the victim acknowledges that he has received full compensation for his loss or damages, by the defendant;
- the victim states that he does not desire criminal prosecution of the misdemeanor that caused the damages; and,
- the court may order that all criminal charges will be dismissed.3
2. What are the benefits of a CC?
There are three main benefits typically associated with civil compromises. These are:
- they help ensure that a victim gets compensated for any losses (usually for property damage or theft);
- they usually resolve a criminal matter quicker and more efficient than a California criminal jury trial; and,
- they help a defendant avoid receiving a rap sheet, or a criminal record.
3. Are there certain misdemeanor cases where a compromise is not allowed?
California Penal Code 1377 PC states that a CC is not allowed or available in certain misdemeanor cases. These include cases where the misdemeanor is committed as follows:
- by or against a police officer (while in the performance of his official duties);
- with an intent to commit a felony;
- in violation of a court order;
- against an elder; or,
- against a child.4
Moreover, in February 2019 the California Appellate Court ruled that a charge of misdemeanor hit and run per Vehicle Code 20002 VC could not be civil compromised. See California vs Dimacali (Super. Ct. CA 274429).
4. Will a civil compromise always stop a prosecutor from pursuing a case?
While a criminal court judge may agree to a CC, there is no requirement saying that the prosecutor handling the criminal case must consent to it.
This means that even if a victim has been reimbursed, the district attorney can still try to bring criminal charges against the defendant.
5. What types of cases are civil compromises most common or effective in?
A CC is most effective in dismissing California charges of:
- Petty theft, under Penal Code 484(a),
- Vandalism, under Penal Code 594,
- Shoplifting, under Penal Code 459.5, and
- Embezzlement, under Penal Code 503.
Please recall from Section 1 above that a CC is only available in cases where one act causes criminal and civil liability. This typically takes place with the above crimes.
Many believe that driving under the influence (DUI), per Vehicle Code 23152(a), is a misdemeanor where civil compromises are often used. This is not true, though, because the damages that are often caused in DUI cases are secondary to the crime of DUI itself.
Example: Becky drives drunk down a neighborhood street in Los Angeles and hits a parked car. She is later charged with DUI and potentially faces serious DUI penalties. Prior to trial, Becky’s attorney seeks to dismiss the case via a civil compromise, where Becky pays for the damage caused to the parked car.
A CC, however, will not work in this case. Driving under the influence is a separate act from damaging a parked car. That is, an element within a DUI charge is not damaging property. Proving a DUI charge only requires a prosecutor to show that a driver operated a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.
6. Are there defense strategies for successfully securing or entering into a compromise?
A criminal defense attorney will sometimes use certain strategies to successfully secure a civil compromise.
For example, a defense lawyer may quickly contact a victim and discuss the idea of a compromise. Quick discussions of compensation sometimes mean that a victim will be less willing to work with police.
If the injured party is a business (e.g., a department store in a shoplifting case), a defense attorney may research store policies that provide rules for compromises.
Creative lawyers might also explore reimbursement type actions that are not directly associated with payment to the victim. A good example is a donation to a charity that the injured party supports.
For further assistance…
- See California Penal Code 1378 PC. The code section states: If the person injured appears before the court in which the action is pending at any time before trial, and acknowledges that he has received satisfaction for the injury, the court may, in its discretion, on payment of the costs incurred, order all proceedings to be stayed upon the prosecution, and the defendant to be discharged therefrom; but in such case the reasons for the order must be set forth therein, and entered on the minutes. The order is a bar to another prosecution for the same offense. See also California Penal Code 1377 PC.
- A victim can either appear personally or by means of a written declaration.
- See California Penal Code 1378 PC.
- California Penal Code 1377 PC.