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What is a Civil Compromise in a Criminal Case?

Posted by Sam Israels | Nov 19, 2022

In California criminal cases, justice is typically pursued through criminal charges and convictions. While a perpetrator's sentence might give some satisfaction, not every criminal case has to end with a conviction for a victim to receive something in return for a perpetrator's conduct.

Sometimes, a middle ground is available when a victim can receive appropriate compensation for their losses through a court action called a “civil compromise,” which results in dropping any criminal action against the defendant.

Civil Compromise in a California Criminal Case

In other words, a civil compromise is described as a defendant in a criminal case providing financial compensation to their victim. The payment is designed to cover their losses and make the victim “whole” again.

In exchange, the prosecutor or the judge will agree to dismiss a criminal charge. It should be noted that a civil compromise is not always an option to resolve a case.

They are usually an option in certain criminal cases, such as misdemeanor theft and shoplifting. They are not available for crimes against an elderly person, child, or felonies.

A classic civil compromise case relates to a shoplifting charge under California Penal Code 459.5 PC. If the defendant pays back the victim for their loss, then the judge could dismiss the case. Our California criminal defense lawyers will review this law further below.

Civil Compromise – Explained

A civil compromise is essentially an agreement with the judge to dismiss a criminal charge if a defendant pays the victim for any damages caused by their behavior.

Judges have the sole authority on whether to grant a civil compromise, which is widely used in certain types of crimes, such as:

  • Penal Code 459.5 PC – shoplifting;
  • Penal Code 484(a) PC – petty theft;
  • Penal Code 503 PC – embezzlement;
  • Penal Code 594 PC – vandalism;
  • Other theft-related crimes.

Civil compromises are an option for misdemeanor crimes, and the defendant can financially reimburse the victim.

The victim must appear in court and tell the judge they were compensated for their loss. Further, they will need to tell the prosecutor they don't want to pursue charges against the defendant.

The criminal charge will be dropped if the court is satisfied with the arrangement. Readers should note that a civil compromise is only a potential option for misdemeanors, and prosecutors don't have to approve it. Felonies are not eligible.

What are the Benefits

The defendant, victim, and court will all benefit from a case that was resolved through a civil compromise:

  • Defendants get a benefit by avoiding a criminal conviction and record;
  • Victims get benefits by receiving compensation for any losses incurred;
  • Courts benefit because it allows for more efficient processing of lower-level cases that don't require an entire criminal trial process to be resolved.

Most people know that many criminal cases can take longer to pass through the system. Thus, any victim restitution will be delayed.

What Are Some Examples of Civil Compromises?

Numerous types of California criminal charges are resolved through a civil compromise, such as the following:

  • A shoplifting charge (PC 459.5) where someone agrees to repay Target for stolen cosmetics;
  • A petty theft charge (PC 484(a)) where someone agrees to repay Walmart for stealing clothes valued under $950;
  • A vandalism charge (PC 594) where someone agrees to pay for graffiti cleanup on the victim's property;
  • An embezzlement charge (PC 503) where a cashier agrees to repay the money she took from the register.

Not all losses will qualify for a resolution through a civil compromise. An example includes driving under the influence (DUI) with an accident charge that causes property damage.

What Types of Crimes Are Not Eligible?

Just to let you know, not all misdemeanors can be resolved through civil compromises. California Penal Code 1377 PC prohibits certain misdemeanors from being resolved by civil compromises, such as:

  • Criminal conduct against a police officer,
  • When there was an intent to commit a felony,
  • When the conduct violates court order,
  • Crimes against elders - Penal Code 368 PC,
  • When the conduct involved domestic violence;
  • When the conduct was committed against a child,
  • Misdemeanor hit and run - Vehicle Code 20002 VC.

A civil compromise doesn't always prevent criminal charges from being filed, as a prosecutor is not required to follow an agreement. Suppose the prosecutor believes it's in the best interests of justice to file criminal charges despite a civil compromise. In that case, they are allowed by law to do so.

What California Statute Authorizes Civil Compromises?

California Penal Code 1378 PC is the statute that allows civil compromises.

California Penal Code 1378 PC civil compromise

It gives judges the discretion to determine whether to grant relief to a defendant by dropping a criminal case after paying for the financial losses caused by their behavior.  

As noted above, Penal Code 1377 PC lists misdemeanors eligible for a civil compromise.    

Our experienced criminal defense lawyers can use different legal strategies to obtain a civil compromise.

If you were charged with a misdemeanor crime that might qualify for a civil compromise resolution, then contact our law firm to review all the details and potential options.  

Cron, Israels & Stark are in Los Angeles County, and we provide legal representation throughout Southern California. Contact our office for an initial free consultation, or use the contact form.

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About the Author

Sam Israels

Sam J. Israels is a Law Firm partner with the Law Offices of Cron, Israels, & Stark. Mr. Israels received his J.D. degree from the Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Israels also previously worked at the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney. He is admitted to practice law in the State o...

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