Patriot Act Update--Fighting Terror, But At What Cost?
I’m Not a Lawyer, But I Play One On TV

Is NY's Drug Law Reform Act working?

In 2004, New York enacted the Drug Law Reform Act (DLRA), thus reforming the Rockefeller Laws, some of the most punitive drug laws in the US.   At the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, it was noted that the Legal Aid Society released a report yesterday regarding the effectiveness of the DLRA., in addition to a summary of the report. 

The main impact of the new law was to reduce the longest sentences imposed for drug possession and to increase the weight of the drug that would trigger the longer sentences.  The new law also allowed those currently incarcerated and serving the longest sentences to seek re-sentencing under the new standards.

In a New York Times article regarding the Legal Aid findings, it was reported that thus far, "only 142 prisoners - about 30 percent of those originally eligible for new sentences under the revised law - have been freed."  According to the Legal Aid report, one of the primary reasons for this low rate is that DAs are opposing re-sentencing requests and, in some cases, seeking the imposition of longer prison terms.

It would appear that the DLRA is not serving its intended purpose of remedying the effects of the draconian Rockefeller drug laws, in part because the DA's offices are not acting within the spirit of the law.  I believe that more reform is necessary and agree with the following recommendations from the Legal Aid summary:

The Legislature should:

1) Let the judge, not just the District Attorney, decide who gets into treatment,
2) Increase funding for drug treatment programs,
3) Drop low level street sales out of the “B” felony category, and
4) Allow those serving long “B” felony sentences to apply for re-sentencing.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


I just read the Legal Aid Society's report. True, sentencing reform was the biggest component of the DLRA - an act which was widely supported by NY District Attorneys. You may recall that Robert Morgenthau ran reform of the Rockefeller drug laws as his latest campaign platform. But, as the Times article points out, the idea was never wholesale release, but reevaluation of the several hundred or so sentences which stemmed from convictions under the old sentencing laws. Some have been released, others have not. The "spirit of the law" does not call for the DA to roll over and consent to the release of EVERY drug offender sentenced under the old law, nor should it - particularly in the adversarial system, such as it is.

The DAs don't have the final word, the judges do. Without the case files in front of us (rhetorically), a debate would be pointless. I hope the DA's are not blindly arguing against release of every offender as a blanket policy - that would be a disgrace - but without knowing the circumstances of each recommendation - its counterproductive to blame this all on the DAs. Just as it would be counterproduct to fault the defense bar for their hypothetical ineptitude for failing to take advantage of these reforms to get these innocents out of prison.

PS: I enjoy your blog, and the debate. Thanks for taking the time for both.

Nicole Black

wdegraw--First of all, I don't believe that I blamed the *entire* problem on ADAs, although I will admit that I placed a fair amount of the blame upon their collective shoulders.

And, while I would agree that, more likely than not, many DA's offices do not have a blanket policy re: opposing the re-sentencings, it would not surprise me one bit if *some* of the DA's offices do have a blanket policy of that nature.

I think that if the release rate due to re-sentencings was closer to 50 or 60%, I might feel as if the "spirit" of the new law was being followed. But, a rate of only 30% is abysmal, in my opinion.

And, perhaps it is counterproductive to blame the DAs, but c'mon, cut me some slack! I'm a defense attorney at heart--I can't help myself!

And,thanks for reading my blog and commenting (and I believe that I fixed the problem that you'd mentioned in another post re: being re-directed to another web site when posting.)


Yep. The commenting problem is fixed. I wouldn't be surprised about the "some" part either. A prosecutor without discretion (and even then, its all relative) is a prosecutor incapable of doing his job justly.

The comments to this entry are closed.