NYS Seal For Immediate Release:
April 18, 2007


Assembly Approves Rockefeller Drug Law Reforms

Legislation To Increase Availability Of Drug Treatment, Provide Judicial Discretion,
Toughen Penalties For Using Guns In Drug Sales And Crack Down On Drug "Kingpins"

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Correction Committee Chair Jeffrion Aubry and Codes Committee Chair Joseph Lentol today announced the Assembly's passage of legislation that would update the state's drug laws, restore judicial discretion and enhance public safety.

Key components of the bill (A. 6663-A) would expand the availability of drug treatment as a potential alternative to mandatory prison for lower-level, non-violent drug offenders; increase penalties for violent drug dealers and drug "kingpins;" and provide greater discretion to judges in fashioning sentences designed to reduce recidivism and protect the public. It also would create new crimes for possession of a firearm in the sale of drugs and for drug sales by adults to children.

"The modest reform to the Rockefeller Drug Laws enacted in 2004 and the extension in 2005 to provide for the re-sentencing of some class A-II offenders was a beginning, but unfortunately, despite pledges made by then Gov. George Pataki and the Senate to make additional changes, no further action was taken. The Assembly's repeated passage of significant drug law reform legislation for years went unnoticed by the former executive and the other house," said Silver.

"This bill provides reforms that are long overdue. It would expand the availability of drug treatment programs, allow judges to order non-violent, lower-level offenders into mandatory treatment for addiction and substance abuse and assure that prisons are most often used for serious drug offenders, offenders with violent histories and those who cannot or will not succeed in drug abuse treatment. We are confident that with the help of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the Assembly's long-standing commitment to make the state's drug laws smarter, fairer and more effective will become a reality," added Silver.

"Regrettably, the former governor and the Senate have repeatedly failed to follow through on their pledge to dramatically reform New York's ineffective and imprudent drug laws. Year after year, they have failed to come forward with significant reforms assuring judicial discretion in the cases of lower-level drug offenders," said Jeffrion Aubry. "The Assembly recognizes that the existing law continues to be badly flawed and that further changes are needed. My bill fulfills our commitment by providing for a more sensible, comprehensive and cost-effective approach for dealing with lower-level drug offenders and addicts."

"There are just too many shortcomings to the current drug laws. We must follow through on the promise to develop drug policies that protect the public, impose harsh penalties where appropriate and mandate improved and effective treatment strategies," said Lentol.

Lentol noted that the bill takes aim at major drug dealers by establishing a new crime of trafficking through a controlled-substance organization. Offenders sentenced under this provision would face a prison sentence of at least 15-years-to-life and up to 30-years-to-life.

"With the establishment of drug courts and providing judicial discretion to judges, we are addressing one of the underlying problems that cause individuals to break the law, drug addiction. This bill would give eligible drug offenders the opportunity to seek treatment and would reduce the rate of recidivism in New York," said Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Helene Weinstein.

"The bill will save many New Yorkers who are struggling with drug addiction and are in need of substance abuse treatment," said Assembly Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee Chair Jeffrey Dinowitz. "With this measure, help will be available so eligible drug offenders have an opportunity to beat their addictions and return to society as productive taxpayers and citizens."

"The Assembly's legislation wisely places a greater emphasis on efforts at rehabilitation and treatment. The increased availability of substance abuse treatment will not only save lives, but it also will provide a significant financial savings to the state," said Peter Rivera, chair of the Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force.

"Even though we made some progress in changing parts of the Rockefeller drug laws several years ago, we now are faced with the challenge of continuing this important work. Too many individuals and families are suffering because of these ill conceived drug laws and the lack of access to appropriate treatment to help them turn around their lives," said Assemblyman Darryl Towns, chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.

The Assembly's Rockefeller Drug Law reform bill expands the use of effective drug treatment programs. Under the bill, the use of drug courts would be increased with the authorization that one be created in each county. At the discretion of the judges of these courts, lower-level, non-violent defendants, who are suffering from an addiction to a controlled substance, could be diverted to Court Approved Drug Abuse Treatment (CADAT) as a potential alternative to a lengthy prison term. According to Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman, there are estimates that two-thirds fewer crimes are committed by drug offenders who complete treatment regimens than those who receive only prison sentences.

To crack down on the gun violence frequently present in drug-related crimes, the bill also would set a five-year minimum determinate sentence for individuals convicted of possessing a loaded firearm or disguised gun while selling or attempting to sell drugs.

In 2004, the state's mandatory Rockefeller drug laws were moderated by eliminating parole and reducing overall sentences for non-violent drug offenders, while increasing potential sentences for drug offenders with a history of violent crimes. The 2004 law allowed some class A-I felony drug offenders to apply for re-sentencing under the new sentencing structure, and made it possible for some drug-sentenced inmates to earn time reductions by participating in drug-abuse treatment and other prison programs. A 2005 amendment allowed certain class A-II drug offenders to seek re-sentencing under the new determinate sentencing scheme. No re-sentencing consideration was permitted for offenders sentenced for class B or lower felony drug crimes.