Updated: Jun 12, 2021
In criminal court, a civil compromise is a process whereby the district attorney agrees to dismiss criminal charges against a defendant if the alleged victim does not desire prosecution against the defendant, the defendant compensates the alleged victim for damages, and other conditions are met.
For example, in a vandalism case, the district attorney might agree to dismiss the charges against the defendant if the victim agrees to forgo prosecution and the defendant compensates the alleged victim for any damages caused by the defendant.
Civil Agreement Requirements
A civil agreement is available only when certain conditions apply to the defendant’s case. These conditions include the following:
The crime alleged against the defendant must be a crime for which there is a civil remedy available to the alleged victim (discussed in more detail below) [PC 1377].
The crime alleged against the defendant must not be a crime against an ‘officer of justice’ while the officer is engaged in his or her capacity as an officer of justice [PC 1377(a) Abbrev.]. An ‘officer of justice’ can be a peace officer, a judge, a court deputy, an attorney general, a district attorney, etc.
The crime alleged against the defendant is not a crime that was committed ‘riotously’ [PC 1377(b)]. The term riotously is not well defined in the civil agreement statute. However, from other references it appears that riotously essentially means a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd. These crimes include rioting, looting, failure to disperse, and more.
The crime alleged against the defendant is not a crime that involves an intent to commit a felony [PC 1377(c)]. Basically, this means that civil compromise is only allowed in misdemeanor or infraction cases. There is some exception where the criminal allegation against the defendant is initially charged as a felony, but subsequently, the felony charge is reduced to a misdemeanor. This is allowed in cases where the felony charge could have been filed alternatively as a misdemeanor (wobbler). For information, see Felony v. Misdemeanor & Wobbler Crimes.
The crime alleged against the defendant is not a violation of a domestic violence restraining order [PC 1377(d) Abbrev.]. This means that the defendant may not a have civil compromise in any PC 273.6.
The crime alleged against the defendant is not a domestic violence crime [PC 1377(e)]. This includes the crimes of inflict corporal injury to spouse (PC 273.5), domestic battery against a spouse or cohabitant (PC 243(e)(1)), and more.
The crime alleged against the defendant is not committed against an elder [PC 1377(f)]. In the criminal law, an elder is a person over the age of sixty-five. Common crimes against elders are found at PC 368(b) elder abuse, and PC 368(d) elder theft.
The crime alleged against the defendant is not a crime that involves an alleged victim who is a minor (under 18) [PC 1377(g)]. These crimes include annoy or molest a minor, statutory rape, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and more.
The alleged victim appears in court, or by declaration, and states that he or she has received satisfaction for the alleged injury and does not desire prosecution [PC 1378 Abbrev.]. The alleged victim must agree to the civil compromise before trial.
Civil Remedy Defined: A civil compromise is only allowed in cases where the alleged victim has a civil remedy against the defendant for the defendant’s alleged conduct that lead to the criminal charges. A civil remedy means the alleged victim could pursue money damages in civil court for the defendant’s conduct. Not all cases have an available civil remedy for an alleged victim.
For example, in a typical drunk in public case (PC 647(f)), there is no alleged victim who may pursue money damages against the defendant in civil court; therefore, there is no civil compromise available to the alleged defendant.
Note: Sometimes, there are damages related to the defendant’s crime, but the crime is not a crime for which there are necessarily damages. In these cases, there is no civil compromise available to the defendant. The most common example of this is a DUI with property damage. The DUI is not a crime that necessarily requires an alleged victim even though the DUI can obviously be related to property damage. Therefore, a civil compromise is not available in DUI cases even if the DUI is related to property damage for which the alleged victim would ordinarily have a civil remedy.
Civil Compromise & Felony Crimes
Civil compromise options are not available for defendants charged with a felony crime; however, if the felony crime the defendant is charged with could have been alternatively charged as a misdemeanor (wobbler) then a civil compromise option could be available to the defendant, so long as the district attorney or judge agrees to reduce the felony charges to misdemeanor charges before trial.
For example, if the defendant is initially charged with felony vandalism under PC 594(b)(1), then civil compromise is not available to the defendant; however, if the district attorney is willing to reduce the felony charges to misdemeanor charges, then civil compromise options could be available to the defendant (assuming all of the other conditions of civil compromise are met of course). When a felony crime is not allowed to be charged alternative as a misdemeanor then civil compromise options are not available to the defendant. For more information on crimes that may be charged either as a felony, or as a misdemeanor, see Wobbler Crimes.
Alleged Victim Agrees
Perhaps the most important part of a civil compromise is that it is not even available unless the alleged victim agrees to the dismissal of the criminal charges. Basically, this means that the alleged victim must show up to court, or provide a declaration to the district attorney, that states he or she does not desire prosecution of the defendant and that he or she has been compensated for the defendant’s conduct that lead to criminal charges (i.e. payment for the defendant's alleged vandalism, graffiti, petty theft, etc.).
Note: A defendant should never contact the alleged victim directly in order to convince the alleged victim to agree to a civil compromise. This type of conduct could lead to additional charges against the defendant (or even the attorney), such as intimidating a witness, violation of a criminal protective order, contempt of court, and more. The defendant who seeks a civil compromise will usually have some idea that the alleged victim is willing to settle the issue and does not otherwise desire criminal prosecution. In this situation, a defendant’s attorney can reach out to the alleged victim in order to determine whether or not the alleged victim is amenable to a civil compromise. If the alleged victim is agreeable to the civil compromise then the criminal defense attorney can draft the agreement for the alleged victim on behalf of the defendant. Also, the payment for damages should not be made directly from the defendant to the alleged victim, but rather, that payment, if any, should be directed to the alleged victim through a criminal defense attorney or the criminal defense attorney’s agent (investigator, third party, etc.).
Also, compensation for damages does not have to be actual money and compensation does not have to be made to the alleged victim. Sometimes, the alleged victim will have any money damages paid to a third party, such as homeless shelter, domestic violence shelter, animal shelter, etc. The civil compromise is allowed to move forward so long as the alleged victim states to the court that he or she has been “compensated” or "satisfied." This assumes all other conditions of the civil compromise have been met of course).
Note: The crime of hit and run driving without injury is a misdemeanor crime that has a civil remedy for the alleged victim; plus, all of the other conditions for a civil compromise are present in hit and run driving without injury cass (i.e. non-felony, no chil victim, etc.). However, the court has carved out an exception to the civil compromise statute that makes a civil compromise option unavailable in hit and run without injury (VC 20002(a)) cases.
Civil Compromise Dismissal
If all of the conditions of PC 1377 are met (see above), and the district attorney and the judge agree, then the defendant may have her criminal charges dismissed through a civil compromise. This is a great option in most cases for defendants who are facing collateral issues, such as immigration consequences for criminal convictions, professional licensing consequences for criminal convictions, military service consequences for criminal convictions, or firearm prohibition for criminal consequences. Keep in mind that the conduct that lead to criminal charges in the first place could be the subject of collateral consequences even if a civil compromise is allowed; however, in most instances, the collateral consequences, if any, are severely reduced against the defendant.
For example, if the defendant is in the military, and he is charged with a crime that is later dismissed through a civil compromise, then the defendant may still face discipline from the military for the alleged conduct that lead to his criminal charges in the first place; but, in many instances, the fact that the criminal charges were settled through a civil compromise will greatly reduce any collateral consequences to the defendant.
Note: It is important to understand that a civil compromise could be an implied confession to the alleged conduct and that the implied confession could be used against the defendant in his immigration case, military career, and more. Therefore, even though a civil compromise option is generally a good option for a defendant to avoid collateral consequences (and prosecution), it is not always the best option. Every case is different and the defendant should discuss these issues with a criminal defense lawyer before entering into a civil compromise.
Double Jeopardy Issues: If the civil compromise is entered the defendant’s criminal charges are dismissed and the district attorney may not later prosecute the defendant for the conduct that was the subject of the civil compromise. This does not mean that another sovereign could not punish the defendant for the same conduct (i.e. federal government immigration authorities, etc.). For more information, see Double Jeopardy.
Important: Criminal defense attorneys cannot condition a settlement of civil claims against an alleged victim upon the alleged victim’s agreement to enter into a civil compromise. Only an agency authorized to prosecute persons has the authority to dismiss a case.
For example, neither the defendant, nor the defendant’s attorney, can agree to forgo civil claims against an alleged victim, or condition payment of restitution to an alleged victim, if the alleged victim agrees to drop the criminal charges against the defendant. In other words, the defendant’s attorney cannot approach an alleged victim with an offer to pay for the alleged victim’s damages only if the alleged victim agrees to a civil compromise. This makes negotiating a civil compromise difficult in some situations.
Common crimes that may not be negotiated with a civil compromise:
Any felony crime that is not allow to be reduced to a misdemeanor. This includes almost all serious and violent crimes as those crimes are described in penal code sections 1192.7 and penal code 667.5, respectively;
Any felony crime that is not actually reduced to a felony despite the fact that the crime is a wobbler;
Any misdemeanor crime where there is no “victim” (other than the People of the State of California in general). This includes common crimes like prostitution, DUI, drunk in public, welfare fraud, possession of prohibited weapons, reckless driving, driving without a license, driving with a suspended license, dog fighting, possession of controlled substance, loitering with intent to commit prostitution, and more.
Any domestic violence crime. This includes, but is not limited to, charges of inflict corporal injury to spouse, domestic battery, and violation of a domestic violence restraining order;
Any misdemeanor crime where the alleged victim is under the age of eighteen or over the age of sixty-five.
Non-Civil Compromise Options: Some of the crimes listed above that are not eligible for a civil compromise may nevertheless be dismissed upon the completion of a diversion program. Essentially, diversion, or the circumventing of criminal prosecution, is a procedure whereby the defendant’s criminal charges are dismissed if he or she completes a probationary type sentence.
For example, in a prostitution (PC 647(b)) case, there is no traditional victim, and therefore, there is no option for a civil compromise; however, the district attorney may offer a diversion of criminal proceeding whereby the district attorney will agree to dismiss the defendant’s criminal charges if the defendant completes a “diversion” class, pays restitution to the alleged victim, if any, and is not charged with a new crime over a period of time (usually eighteen months). Diversion is not available in every criminal case. For more information, see Diversion.
For more information on civil compromise, or penal code 1377 & 1378, contact our criminal defense attorneys for a free consultation. Our team of experienced criminal defense attorneys have successfully handled hundreds of misdemeanor and felony cases in the Inland Empire, including the cities of Redlands, Fontana, Yucaipa, Ontario, San Bernardino, and more. Our attorneys are available seven days a week to assist you. There is no charge for a first-time, in office, consultation and our team can also travel to local jails for consultations, including West Valley Detention Center, Central Detention Center (CDC), and more. Call today!