Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

Who is “indigent”? $5,000 special assessment issue to watch out for

The Second Circuit today issued a Jacobson remand for the district court to explain how it decided that a person represented by the Federal Defenders office was still “non-indigent” under Section 2014(a). (See the summary order in United States v. Rosario). For those who haven’t encountered this issue yet, section 2014(a) is the “Justice for Victims Trafficking Act,” which mandates a $5,000 – rather than $100 – special assessment for any “non-indigent” person convicted of certain sex offenses. “Indigent” isn’t defined. Although there do seem to be some good proxies the court could use – qualification for appointed counsel or a determination that a fine is inappropriate – so far, the Circuit has offered little guidance. Maybe they will when Rosario comes back before the panel.

In the meantime, object to the $5,000 special assessment if you have any argument your client is indigent. It may seem like a small thing, but when every phone call, email, and purchase of sweatpants costs money in prison, not having to pay a large special assessment from commissary can make a real difference!

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