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Bill aims to cap court fees across NY: Are they predatory?

  • / Updated:
  • Edwin Viera 

The New York State Legislature is considering a bill to end court fees many consider predatory.

Senate Bill 313 takes aim at numerous fines, fees and surcharges added to any crime, from traffic violations to felonies.

2022 report from the Fines and Fees Justice Center found $95 to $300 in mandatory surcharges are sent to an executive branch General Fund, either at a county or state level.

Many people see the extra costs as criminalizing poverty.

Sen. Julia Salazar, D-Bushwick, the bill’s sponsor, described what can happen if people are unable to pay these fees.

“They could even face jail time without being charged with any other new crime or violation, simply due to being unable to pay,” Salazar explained. “They can face loss of employment, they can have their wages garnished; all kinds of really unjust consequences.”

She sees the fines and fees as regressive ways to fund local and state courts. The bill was first introduced in 2019 and has not faced opposition. At a 2021 public hearing, the director of the Office of Indigent Legal Services said cutting the fines and fees could affect the agency’s budget. The current bill is under review by the Senate Codes Committee.

As the bill has been reintroduced, amendments include new fees which need to be repealed. While Salazar feels the bill would eradicate a series of surcharges, she described a possible short-term alternative approach.

“Judges have discretion to consider a defendant’s financial circumstances and to waive fees when it’s clear that the defendant wouldn’t be able to pay the fee,” Salazar pointed out.

She believes the option is not used enough, and said the Office of Court Administration could issue a memo asking judges to use their discretion more.

New York is not alone in imposing such fees. A 2022 survey found 47 states charge probation fees, along with an assortment of program fees.