Legislation has passed as part of the 2019/2020 New York State budget that increases the cost of the criminal history record fees conducted by the Office of Court Administration’s (OCA) Criminal History Records Search (CHRS) Unit to $95 each. The legislation fee increase is now in effect.
Why the Fee Increase?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo presented the increase as part of the new state budget. The proposed, and since approved, fee increase for criminal background checks will contribute to New York's indigent legal fund.
Criminal defense services provided to low-income New York residents receive funding through the indigent legal fund. The increase in fees for criminal history record searches is earmarked for the fund.
The goal is to generate $66 million for the fund which subsidizes the counties' burden of costs. In addition to the increased fee for criminal history records, the budget increases the bi-annual fee for attorneys practicing in New York, something that was greatly opposed by the New York State Bar Association.
The association recognized that providing indigent legal assistance is constitutionally mandated. Their issue with the fees, according to representatives, was the fact that the funding should come from the state and from society—not extra fees on existing services.
In 2014, the New York Civil Liberties Union sued the state regarding legal representation for the poor in upstate New York. The state settled with the Union, agreeing that individuals charged with a crime in those counties would have legal representation. The settlement also limited the number of cases per public defender.
Later attempts by some New York lawmakers to expand the settlement to the entire state failed. The governor chose to veto the expansion due to concerns about costs. The state now plans to take over the indigent legal fund by the year 2023. The estimated annual investment is $250 million.