Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine Vol.79, No. 3
© 2002 The New York Academy of Medicine
Now nearing the 30th year since their passage by the State’s legislature, New York’s “Rockefeller drug laws” (RDL) mandate long prison sentences for drug offenders most commonly for possession or sale of small quantities of illicit drugs. The length of the sentences under RDL are based on the type and quantity of drugs involved and on the defendants prior offenses. Penalties are applied regardless of the circumstances of arrest, but most are “buy and b
ust” entrapments of drug users by undercover narcotic police operating in targeted communities.
Facing long mandatory sentences if found guilty in a jury trial and less than adequate legal representation from poorly compensated public defenders, most drug defendants agree to plead guilty to lesser offenses than those in the original charges. Over 90% of drug cases are plea bargained directly with the prosecutors and do not involve jury trials to determine guilt or innocence.
Thus, once the amount of drugs and prior record have been determined, the sentencing rules do not permit judicial discretion that would allow judges to take extenuating circumstances into account in determining the length of sentences on a case by case basis.