Deal on State’s Drug Laws Means Resentencing Pleas

Deal on State’s Drug Laws Means Resentencing Pleas
Posted by CN Staff on March 28, 2009 at 06:24:33 PT
By Jeremy W. Peters
Source: New York Times
Albany, N.Y. -- An agreement reached by Gov. David A. Paterson and legislative leaders this week to give judges more flexibility to determine drug sentences would also allow hundreds of people currently in prison for nonviolent drug offenses to ask a judge to resentence them, the governor said Friday.The proposal, which sweeps away much of what is left of the Rockefeller-era drug laws, would also create new categories of crimes for so-called drug kingpins and people who sell drugs to children.
Mr. Paterson and legislators hailed the plan’s central elements — which would give judges the option of sending many low-level drug offenders to treatment instead of prison even if a prosecutor objects — as sweeping and historic changes in the state’s criminal justice policy.“With the endeavor we are taking today, we are hoping to forever eliminate the regime of Rockefeller drug laws,” Mr. Paterson said at a news conference held in the Capitol to announce the agreement.Mindful of the objections of prosecutors and some Republicans who have criticized the proposal as too lenient on offenders caught with large quantities of drugs, supporters of the plan stressed the new laws’ enhanced criminal penalties.“This is designed to ensure that those who suffer from addiction go to treatment and that those who profit from addiction go to prison,” said Senator Eric T. Schneiderman, a Manhattan Democrat who has led the Senate’s effort to revise the drug laws. Prosecutors, who were still trying to make sense of the plan on Friday, said they had a number of concerns, like a provision that would allow offenders with several prior drug convictions to be sent to treatment.“If you let someone who has five prior convictions into treatment over the prosecutor’s objections, that’s really symbolic of a revolving door,” said Bridget G. Brennan, the special narcotics prosecutor for New York City. “We’re worried that this will permit endless cycles of meaningless and expensive treatment.”The discretion afforded to judges in the plan is wide. Not only would judges have the option to send all but the most serious drug felons to treatment, but they would also have the power to seal convictions and dismiss charges of offenders who have successfully completed treatment. Judges would also have wide latitude to resentence offenders who do not successfully complete treatment. The plan provides them with the discretion to determine “an appropriate penalty” if treatment is not completed, Mr. Paterson said.Negotiators for the Legislature and the governor’s budget office were still trying Friday to determine how much money would be dedicated to the program, which is expected to cost in excess of $80 million to implement. Mr. Schneiderman said that he expected most of the funds to come from federal stimulus money and that no state money would be involved this year.Advocates for changes to the state’s drug laws cautioned that if the state did not invest enough money to pay for the expansion of drug treatment and re-entry programs for drug-dependent offenders, the revisions would be for naught.“There has to be a simultaneous investment in alternatives to incarceration and re-entry programs,” said Glenn E. Martin, vice president of the Fortune Society, which runs programs that assist people once they are released from prison. “Or else we’re setting ourselves up for failure.”In a sign of just how intricate and complicated the issue is, negotiations on the precise wording of the legislation continued on Friday.The negotiations also provided a glimpse at the political one-upmanship and message control that pervades lawmaking in Albany.Overhauling the drug laws has been a mission for many Democrats from New York City, where a disproportionately high rate of people are incarcerated for drug crimes. Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry of Queens has for years led the charge in the Assembly to repeal the laws, and he routinely sponsored legislation on the issue.But when the Assembly version of the bill was introduced in February, Speaker Sheldon Silver listed himself as a main sponsor of the bill alongside Mr. Aubry and then held a news conference at a rehabilitation center in Albany to call for the legislation’s approval. The support from Mr. Silver surprised some of his colleagues.When it was reported on Thursday that the key points of a deal had been reached, Mr. Silver was evidently caught off guard. He then denied to reporters that a deal was in place, even as legislative staff members and the governor’s office were preparing for a Friday morning news conference. A version of this article appeared in print on March 28, 2009, on page A16 of the New York edition.Source: New York Times (NY)Author: Jeremy W. PetersPublished: March 28, 2009 - Page A16 Copyright: 2009 The New York Times CompanyContact: letters nytimes.comWebsite: Article:Lawmakers Agree To Soften Drug Laws Justice Archives
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Comment #4 posted by Storm Crow on March 28, 2009 at 09:34:35 PT
We have DARE at my school....
I've had to sit through the assembly a few times. There is a huge change around 6/7th grade. For the most part, the officer may as well have been mute- the kids aren't listening. The ones away from the teachers are texting, the ones near a teacher are totally bored and the ones in between are gossiping! These kids have SEEN what drugs do, and do not, do! Their parents, older siblings and friends have already educated them. By the end of 7th grade, only the few "good Catholic girls" are listening...and believing. DARE is a total waste of money! (But the kids at my school ALL LOVE DARE days!.... It is scheduled during "core" hours, so no math, or social studies, on DARE assembly days! AND NO HOMEWORK!)
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Comment #3 posted by mykeyb420 on March 28, 2009 at 08:59:01 PT
Kids know that the only thing DARE stands for is " Drugs Are Really Expensive"
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on March 28, 2009 at 06:40:50 PT
Column: Cutting DARE Funding Isn't a Bad Idea
March 28, 2009If you pick up any newspaper or talk to any cop, you figure out quickly that drug use is at the heart of a hefty chunk of crime. So you're not going to be popular if you cut funds to a program that's supposed to nip drug usage in the bud -- or at least saddle it with a nasty reputation.But that's what Gov. Ed Rendell proposes in his budget.Rendell wants to eliminate money to the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program, popularly known as DARE, as in DARE to stay off drugs.URL:
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Comment #1 posted by christ on March 28, 2009 at 06:36:08 PT
New York moving in the right direction
Congratulations to Speaker Sheldon Silver for scrapping older-mindset laws. This is the day to improve our government, and you sir have done it.
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