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New York Should Re-examine Mandatory Court Fees Imposed on Individuals Convicted of Criminal Offenses and Violations

This report examines the current status of mandatory surcharges in New York, describes the impact of the surcharges on indigent defendants, and proposes legislative changes, including the elimination of the surcharges.

You can read the full study here. Additionally, FFJC’s New York Campaign aims to abolish the mandatory surcharge, and you can read more about it here.

Key Findings
  • Mandatory surcharges and fees are a form of taxation – not imposed to punish, but only to raise revenue for the State.
  • Every person convicted in New York is assessed a mandatory surcharge of $300 for felony convictions, $175 for misdemeanors, and $95 for violations as well as a $25 crime victim assistance fee. Persons convicted of a felony or Penal Law misdemeanor must also pay a DNA databank fee of $50.
  • Sentencing Court cannot waive the fees or surcharges even when financial hardship is shown.
  • Failure to pay results in a bench warrant, imprisonment or a civil judgment.
    • These mandatory surcharges apply to justice-involved youth.
  • Those incarcerated earn $0.17 and $0.39 per hour, and wages are reduced by between 20 and 40% for payment towards the mandatory surcharges. In addition, 25-50% of outside commissary contributions (typically from family and friends) can also be garnished to pay surcharges.
    • A reduced commissary makes it difficult for incarcerated people to purchase basic necessities.
  • Sentences imposed concurrently receive individual surcharges.
Recommendations
  • Eliminate mandatory surcharges or impose a sliding scale surcharge based on an individual’s financial resources.
  • Alternatively:
    • Reinstate courts’ ability to waive surcharges and fees.
    • Eliminate mandatory surcharges for youthful offender adjudications.
    • Eliminate mandatory surcharges for all non-criminal offenses, including violations and traffic offenses.
    • Eliminate imposition of multiple surcharges.
    • Prohibit the use of commissary money to pay mandatory surcharges.
Sarah Berger, Tess Cohen, Linda Hoff, Hon. April Newbauer, Luke Schram, Ben Weiner, Alexander Lesman, Sean Hecker
New York City Bar: Committee on Criminal Justice Operations, The Committee on Correction and Community Reentry, and The Task Force on Mass Incarceration
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