Drug Policy

Will Liberal Democrats Undo a Liberal Republican's Drug Sentences?

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Yesterday the New York State Assembly overwhelmingly approved a bill that would essentially eliminate the harsh mandatory minimum sentences created by the Rockefeller drug laws, giving judges discretion to set penalties based on the details of each case and to order probation plus treatment instead of prison. The bill also would allow low-level, nonviolent offenders not covered by earlier reforms to apply for resentencing. Similar legislation has been passed by the Assembly before, but it was always blocked by the Republican-controlled state Senate. With Democrats in charge of the Senate and a Democratic governor who supports sentencing reform, the prospects for abolishing the draconian penalties championed by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in 1970s (anticipating the federal mandatory minimums of the 1980s) look stronger than ever, though not certain.

I discussed the Rockefeller drug laws in a 1999 Reason article about sentencing reform. At the time, a first-time offender convicted of selling two ounces or possessing four ounces of heroin or cocaine received a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life—the same as the penalty for second-degree murder. The Drug Law Reform Act of 2004 reduced that minimum to eight years and allowed prisoners serving time under the old provision to apply for resentencing. But only a small share of the prisoners theoretically eligible for resentencing actually received shorter terms, and the law left largely untouched offenders who fell below the 15-year threshold.

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  1. man, fuck the republicans in this state.

  2. OK, to be entirely fair, this stands as an example of “liberaltarianism” in action.

    So far, the only one, as near as I can tell, but there it is nonetheless.

  3. well, this has been stewing in the state for a long time now (over ten years), mostly via groups like the november coalition and the dpan.

  4. dhex brought this article to my attention. I only bring it up for this quote –

    Many prosecutors, including Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, say the drug laws would be better left just the way they are.

    “You’re making much ado about nothing. The DA’s have used this law wisely. We’ve reduced crime. We’ve treated addicts. And you need to continue to trust us to do that,” said Johnson.

    The kind of arrogance that is all too familiar coming from the law enforcement establishment.

  5. You know, of all the clueless sons of bitches who ever held office in the good old US of A, Nelson Rockefeller stands out as exceptionally clueless on nearly every level.

    In addition to his famous drug laws he spent NY State into near bankruptcy with grandiose public buildings and welfare projects. of course, that could describe any number of governors in the 60s and 70s but Rockefeller seems to have excelled.

    Part of what drove his welfare largesse was the fact that he seemed to have had absolutely no clue as to how anyone could live on less that $40K a year (remember, that was real money back then) so he viewed everyone as a suffering pauper.

    FDR may have been a snob with nothing but contempt for the lower orders but he does seem to have understood how they lived. His political instincts told him he needed to cater to them but in the end he knew when enough was enough.

    Rockefeller just constantly confused the public purse with his own. I’m not sure, but I think I would rank him as the most evil American pol of my lifetime, beating out even LBJ.

    It’s good to see the legislature can at least undo part of his malignant legacy. It won’t undo the harm that’s been done over the last 30+ years though.

  6. I worked in a Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison program in the Brooklyn DA’s office in the 1990s.

    What I couldn’t believe was the following. Mr. A politely asks a passerby if they wished to buy a 5 dollar bag of heroin, and then politely accepts their response, either yea or nay. Mr. B beats someone up with a baseball bat, puts out an eye and puts the person in the hospital for a month.

    The Mr. A gets charged with a C felony while Mr. B gets charged with a D or E felony.

    Doesn’t seem right or fair.

  7. yeah he’s a dickhead.

    http://www.economist.com/printedition/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=13237193

    http://www.economist.com/printedition/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13234157&CFID=44285162&CFTOKEN=24859444

    there’s a lot more at stake.

    daring to dream for a brief moment, a consumer country legalization routine would shake up the entire world in ways that are probably unimaginable now.

  8. Not to mention the whole “Yes your honor, I plead guilty, and I am an addict,” part of the revision. What if you tell the judge that you’re like governor Patterson or President Obama, and that you’ve only tried cocaine?

  9. daring to dream for a brief moment, a consumer country legalization routine would shake up the entire world in ways that are probably unimaginable now.

    It wouldn’t be all good.
    .
    .
    .
    Just 98.7% good.

  10. liberals truly are the scourge of the earth.

  11. oh hell wayne, can’t we drop the sports bar diplomacy for a minute or two? doesn’t it get boring?

    “Just 98.7% good.”

    i don’t know about that. i think it would be mostly good, but there would be a serious adjustment period, too. like a college binge drinking party.

    plus you’d have armed gangs dealing with the evaporation of their revenue stream…that’s going to cause some months of panic over real or imagined dangers.

  12. i don’t know about that. i think it would be mostly good, but there would be a serious adjustment period, too. like a college binge drinking party.

    I was exagerrating, of course. Sure, usage would go up. Including among “OMG! the children”. And as we are all too well aware of, a certain percentage of users will be asshole irresponsible. Unlike the drug warriors (shootouts on the streets, assassinations of honest cops in broad daylight means we’re winning!), I’m honest enough to face facts.

    plus you’d have armed gangs dealing with the evaporation of their revenue stream…that’s going to cause some months of panic over real … dangers.

    I’m not certain that the Latin American drug organizations are goinmg to get more violent. Even granting they do, recruitment will be much more difficult and public support for law enforcement would go up.

    or imagined dangers

    Aren’t imagined dangers are pretty much what’s gotten us into this mess?

  13. I’m generally in agreement with the posters above, but I must say the law does seem to set a pretty high minimum amount: two ounces of cocaine or heroin is a lot. That’s not a dime bag some user bought on the street corner.

    And does anyone know if purity figures in? If someone has two ounces of heroin that’s 50% pure, does that count as one ounce or two? I thought most heroin and cocaine was cut pretty heavily by the time it left the possession of the very top dealers.

  14. two ounces of cocaine or heroin is a lot.

    It’s about one good night with a bunch of friends

  15. And does anyone know if purity figures in? If someone has two ounces of heroin that’s 50% pure, does that count as one ounce or two? I thought most heroin and cocaine was cut pretty heavily by the time it left the possession of the very top dealers.

    Doubtful. Don’t the add the weight of the paper Acid is stuck to if you have a sheet of it?

  16. The state crime lab will report the “correct” amount of the substance. I’m personally aware of a case where the reported amount was .01g over the amount that gets the next higher penalty. There is a huge penalty difference between 14.99g of a substance and 15.01g. Fucking liars. Not only that, but the stuff was apparently 100% pure. Again, Liars!

    (wasn’t me that got busted)

  17. At the low end US street price of $20/gram (according to Wikipedia), two ounces of cocaine is about $1,100. That’s a hell of a party.

  18. come to think of it –

    Anyone know any good books that cover what happened immediately after the repeal of prohibition?

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