People v. Jones (2016) – Case Brief Summary (New York)

In People v. Jones, 26 NY3d 730, 27 N.Y.S.3d 431, 47 N.E.3d 710 (2016), the Court of Appeals interpreted what it noted had been characterized as the series of interlocking "poorly drafted and difficult to follow" statutes which impose the obligation on defendants to pay mandatory surcharges and fees and specify the circumstances under which those assessments may be deferred. 26 NY3d at 733 .

The Defendant in Jones pled guilty to Class B felony drug crimes, was given concurrent six month jail sentences and asked for a deferral of his mandatory surcharge.

The First Department affirmed the trial court's denial of the deferral request, holding that because the Defendant was subject to a jail sentence of more than 60 days, he was required to make his deferral application in a post-sentencing proceeding. People v. Jones, 115 AD3d 490, 982 N.Y.S.2d 309 (2014).

The Court of Appeals affirmed that holding.

The Jones Court first traced the history of the statutes governing surcharges and fees and legislative enactments prohibiting assessment waivers. Surcharge deferrals are provided for by CPL 420.40.

This statute indicates that it "governs the deferral" of surcharges and fees and financial hardship hearings related to the imposition of surcharges.

The statute then goes on, however, to provide procedures and standards for deferrals with respect to a "summons issued pursuant to subdivision (3) of section 60.35 of the penal law" and other statutory provisions not relevant here. That subdivision, however, does not provide for any such summonses, nor are such summonses issued when a defendant is sentenced to state prison for a felony.

Subdivision (8) of section 60.35 of the penal law does provide for such summonses to be issued when a surcharge or fee remains unpaid after 60 days. This section, however, provides that it is not applicable to jail sentences of longer than 60 days or state prison sentences

This initially presented the question to the Jones court of whether the surcharge deferrals provided by CPL 420.40 were only applicable to persons who were not sentenced to jail for more than 60 days and not sentenced to prison (the interpretation supported by CPL 420.40 [2]) or whether those deferral procedures were generally applicable to all offenders (the interpretation supported by the preceding subdivision of the statute, CPL 420.40 [1]).

The Court determined the surcharge deferral statute was applicable to all offenders. (26 NY3d at 738-739.)