Sentencing for Dollars: The Financial Consequences of a Criminal Conviction

This working paper details the collateral consequences of fines and fees in New York and highlights how the conflicting goals of assessing fines and fees – punishment as well as the need for revenue – can threaten criminal justice system outcomes and disproportionately impact marginalized communities. In New York, financial penalties tend to be imposed “in a vacuum, with each new fee viewed as a solitary cost.” But when fees are added together, the cumulative impact is extreme, and the authors advance an array of policy recommendations that could mitigate these severe consequences.

You can read the full text of the paper here.

The chaotic array of financial penalties undermines defense counsel’s ability to adhere to professional standards that require defense counsel to be familiar with all of the collateral consequences of a sentence.

Key Findings
  • States are increasing their reliance on fines and fees, and New York is no exception: the state added or increased dozens of fees in the 1990s and early 2000s without any effort to assess the “cumulative effects” of combined fines and fees on individuals convicted of crimes.
  • “The various fines, fees and surcharges for a person convicted of a class E felony DWI can add up to more than $7,500.”
  • In 2005, the enactment of Penal Law §60.35(10) required the imposition of fees upon juvenile defendants.
  • “Despite an opinion by the New York State Attorney General (Opinion No. 2003-4, April 7, 2003) that a county may not enact local legislation permitting fees for probation services except as specifically authorized by statute, some counties have continued to collect probation fees that are not authorized by state law.” These fees include probation fees, drug testing fees, electronic monitoring fees, and fees for victim impact panels.
  • In 2001, the collections rate for parole fees was 1%. Failure to pay parole fees can be used to justify denial of Certificate of Good Conduct, a document that can help formerly incarcerated people obtain employment.
  • New York State’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision collected more than $2.5 million each year (1995-2003) by garnishing fines and fees from the commissary accounts of incarcerated people.
  • New York courts may enter civil judgments against individuals who owe fines and fees, and individuals who owe fines and fees may not declare bankruptcy on that basis. Civil judgments can hinder individuals’ ability to secure housing and employment.
  • Jurisdictions should develop a comprehensive inventory of what financial penalties exist and how they overlap.
  • New York should consolidate all fines and fees into one combined fee schedule that accounts for defendants’ ability to pay, with tiers for felonies, misdemeanors, and violations.
  • Amend C.P.L. § 420.35(2) to allow financial penalties to be waived based on ability to pay.
  • Impose a moratorium on all new fines and fees and increases of fines and fees.
  • Repeal supervision fees imposed by Executive Law § 259-a (9) (a) and § 257-c.
  • Prohibit the enactment of local laws that impose additional financial obligations on individuals as a result of a criminal conviction.
  • Require courts to disclose all financial penalties that will apply to a conviction before the defendant enters a guilty plea.
Alan Rosenthal, Marsha Weissman, Center for Community Alternatives