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Most people have had to pay a fine at some point, usually in the form of a speeding or parking ticket. People convicted of more serious crimes also have to pay fines in many situations, although the amount of the fine is usually much more substantial than a traffic ticket. The purposes of imposing a criminal fine are to punish the offender, help compensate the state for the offense, and deter any future criminal acts. Below, you’ll find information about how fines are imposed and the differences between fines and restitution.

Sentencing: How and Why Fines Are Imposed

After someone is convicted of a crime, the sentencing judge has the discretion to impose a criminal fine on the convicted defendant. Sometimes, the fine takes the place of a prison sentence or probation. In other situations, the judge can sentence a defendant to a fine in conjunction with a period of time behind bars or on probation.

The decision to levy a criminal fine in lieu of prison time or probation depends on the type and severity of the crime, and whether or not the criminal statute in question carries any minimum sentencing requirements. Judges typically impose fines with no accompanying prison time or probation as an alternative sentence for minor crimes or first-time offenses. A fine is still a criminal sentence, however, and the defendant will have a criminal history even if he or she avoids prison time and merely pays a fine.

Fines vs. Restitution

Both criminal fines and restitution require the defendant to pay money as punishment for a crime, but they differ in one key way. While fines are paid to the government, restitution is paid to the victims of a crime for the injuries they suffered as a result of that crime. For example, if a graffiti artist spray painted a public bench, he may be fined for vandalism. On the other hand, if the graffiti artist spray painted a house, he may be ordered to pay restitution to the homeowners in addition to any fines.

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