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Civil Compromise in Criminal Cases

How Does a “Civil Compromise” Work?

In most criminal cases, justice is sought by alleged victims through criminal charges and convictions. While the sentence of an individual that caused someone harm may give some solace to people, not all criminal matters must result in convictions for a victim to be compensated for a defendant's conduct.

In some cases, a middle ground exists where the victim is appropriately compensated for their losses through a court action known as a civil compromise. A successful civil compromise usually results in no further criminal proceedings or actions towards obtaining a conviction.

Civil Compromise in California Criminal Cases
A civil compromise allows a defendant to repay the victim to have their criminal charges dismissed.

In other words, a civil compromise is where the prosecutor or the judge will agree to dismiss a California criminal charge if you financially compensate the victim for their losses or damages caused by the crime. In some cases, prosecutors will not agree to a civil compromise, but it still might be possible to obtain it.

This type of agreement occurs most often in certain types of criminal cases, such as theft, shoplifting, and others. A California Penal Code 1377 PC civil compromise is only available for defendants charged with a misdemeanor crime, but NOT a misdemeanor offense committed against law enforcement, an elderly person, or a child.

Any type of felony criminal case would not be eligible for this resolution. A classic case of a civil compromise includes a situation where someone has been charged with California Penal Code 459.5 PC shoplifting with a total loss of $200. The defendant pays back the victim for their loss, and the judge dismisses the case.

Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will discuss this topic in more detail below.

What is a Civil Compromise?

A civil compromise is an agreement by a judge to dismiss a criminal charge if the accused pays the victim for any damages caused by their conduct. Judges hold the sole authority of whether to grant a civil compromise. They are common in specific types of cases, including:

California Penal Code 377 PC - civil compromise
Common cases resolved through civil compromise include shoplifting, petty theft, and embezzlement.
  • Shoplifting – Penal Code 459.5 PC,
  • Petty theft – Penal Code 484(a) PC,
  • Embezzlement – Penal Code 503 PC
  • Vandalism – Penal Code 594 PC, and
  • Other theft-related offenses.

Civil compromises are available if the crime committed was a misdemeanor, and the victim is reimbursed for their losses by the defendant. The victim will have to appear in court regarding the case and inform the judge that they have been compensated for any losses incurred.

The victim must then state that they are not interested in prosecuting the defendant in a criminal case regarding the alleged activity. If the court is satisfied, then the criminal charge will be dismissed.

Felony charges cannot be resolved through a civil compromise, only misdemeanors. Prosecutors are not required to give consent to a civil compromise. Readers should note that even if a victim receives reimbursement for their losses, the District Attorney's Office could still attempt to pursue criminal charges against the defendant. 

What are the Benefits of a Civil Compromise?

The defendant, victim, and court can all benefit from a case resolved through a civil compromise. The defendant benefits from a civil compromise by avoiding a criminal conviction and resulting criminal history. The victim benefits from a civil compromise by guaranteeing compensation for any losses incurred.

The court benefits from a civil compromise because it allows for more efficient handling of lower-level cases that don't require a full criminal trial process to be adequately resolved. Criminal cases can take a long time to make their way through the system, and payment will be delayed the entire time unless a civil compromise is reached.

What Are Some Examples?

As noted, several types of criminal charges can be resolved through a civil compromise, including:

  • A shoplifting charge (PC 459.5) where an individual agrees to repay Urban Outfitters for the stolen shoes.
  • A Petty theft charge (PC 484(a)) where an individual agrees to repay a victim for stealing his headphones.
  • A vandalism charge (PC 594) where an individual agrees to pay to clean up graffiti that he sprayed on the victim's property.
  • An embezzlement charge (PC 503) where a Costco cashier agrees to repay the money she stole from the register while working.

Civil compromises are only available when a single act causes criminal and civil liability. If an act only coincidentally results in money damages, then it will likely not qualify for a resolution through a civil compromise.

An example of a misdemeanor that is not eligible for a civil compromise is a driving under the influence (DUI) charge that causes property damage.

What Types of Cases Are Not Eligible?

Not all misdemeanor cases can be resolved in civil compromises. California law under Penal Code 1377 PC prohibits the following types of misdemeanors from being resolved through civil compromises, including:

  • Acts by or against a police officer while performing their duties,
  • Riotous acts,
  • If there is an intent to commit a felony,
  • If the conduct violates court order,
  • If the conduct is committed against an elder under Penal Code 368,
  • If the conduct was committed in a domestic violence matter
  • If the conduct is committed against a child.

A California Vehicle Code 20002 VC misdemeanor hit and run are no longer eligible for a civil compromise after a California Appellate Court ruling in 2019.

A civil compromise does not always prevent criminal charges, as a prosecutor is not required to go along with an agreement. Suppose the prosecutor feels it is in the interests of justice to pursue criminal charges against you despite a resolution through a civil compromise. In that case, they are not prevented from doing so by law.

What California Statute Authorizes Civil Compromises?

California Penal Code 1378 PC authorizes civil compromises. This statute gives the judge discretion in determining whether to grant relief to a defendant by discharging a criminal case upon payment and satisfaction of any financial costs incurred by the defendant's conduct.

Call Eisner Gorin LLP to Review Your Case
Contact our office for legal advice.

As discussed in the previous section, Penal Code 1377 PC lists what types of misdemeanor cases cannot be resolved this way. Experienced criminal lawyers can use various strategies to obtain a civil compromise for their clients.

If you were charged with a crime that may qualify for being resolved through a civil compromise, reach out to our law firm to review the details and legal options moving forward.

Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles County, and we represent people throughout Southern California. Contact our office for an initial consultation by calling (310) 328-3776 or filling out our contact form.

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