Civil Compromises in California Criminal Cases

A civil compromise (“CC”), under California law, is when a judge dismisses a criminal charge against a defendant after he compensates the victim for any damages his crime caused.

A CC is only available in California misdemeanor cases. They are not allowed in felony cases.

Examples of civil compromises include:

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.

Pease 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 highlight the following in this article:

california civil compromise case
A civil compromise is when a judge dismisses a criminal charge against a defendant after he compensates the victim for any damages his crime caused.

1. What is a civil compromise in a California criminal case?

A CC is a legal process where a judge can dismiss a criminal charge if:

  1. the crime committed was a misdemeanor; and,
  2. 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.

A good example here is a case of misdemeanor hit and run, per Vehicle Code 20002. The act is a criminal act under California law. In addition, the act most often causes damage to another person's vehicle - which gives rise to a civil lawsuit against the defendant.

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 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:

  1. they help ensure that a victim gets compensated for any losses;
  2. they usually resolve a criminal matter quicker and more efficient than a California criminal jury trial; and,
  3. 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);
  • riotously;
  • with an intent to commit a felony;
  • in violation of a court order;
  • against an elder; or,
  • against a child.4

4. Will a civil compromise always stop a prosecutor from pursuing a case?

While a 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 prosecutor can still try to bring criminal charges against the defendant.

california vandalism charge
A CC is most effective in dismissing California charges of vandalism, among other charges

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,
  • Misdemeanor hit and run, under Vehicle Code 20002,
  • 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 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.

Have you committed a crime in California and are thinking about entering into a civil compromise? Call us for help…

california civil compromise legal experts
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has questions about a civil compromise, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAWFIRM.

Legal References:

  1. 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.

  2. A victim can either appear personally or by means of a written declaration.

  3. See California Penal Code 1378 PC.

  4. California Penal Code 1377 PC.

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