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There is still room for improvement with New York drug laws

pakalolo and judge gavel.jpegFor many years, New York drug laws were some of the toughest laws in the country. Fortunately, drug crime penalties are continuing to undergo a series of reforms. If you are facing drug possession charges in New York, it is important for you to know what you may be facing.

The Rockefeller Drug Laws

In 1973, New York governor Nelson Rockefeller signed the Rockefeller Drug Laws, which were extremely strict. Under the Rockefeller laws, a conviction for possession of four or more ounces of a controlled substance meant an automatic jail sentence of 15 years to life. After these laws went into effect, over 150,000 New Yorkers were incarcerated for non-violent drug possession offenses. Legislators made the laws strict in order to reduce the number of drug crimes in the state. Although the laws were harsh, the number of drug-related crimes did not decrease.

Once crack-cocaine became popular in the 1980s, the number of people in the New York State prison system tripled. By 2002, over one-third of all prisoners were in jail for drug crimes. One of the many criticisms of these laws was that they targeted certain populations. It is reported that 90 percent of all people imprisoned under the Rockefeller Laws were young black and Hispanic males.

A needed law change in 2004

The first round of reforms for the New York drug laws took place in 2004. Governor George Pataki signed the Drug Law Reform Act (DLRA), reducing mandatory prison sentences for non-violent drug offenses. The minimum penalty for some felony drug charges were also reduced under DLRA for offenders with no previous felony convictions. As a result, the number of prisoners in jail for drug felonies was cut in half.

Doing away with mandatory minimum sentences

Another round of reforms happened in 2009 when mandatory minimum sentencing was removed altogether. Judges were allowed to be more lenient with jail sentences, and they could even choose to sentence a person to treatment for a drug offense rather than jail.

New York drug laws today

While there has been much progress for those charged with drug crimes in New York, the current laws remain confusing and complex. For example, factors that determine your charges may include:

  • The type of drug involved
  • The amount in your possession
  • Who was with you
  • Your location at the time of the arrest

You have too much to lose. Learn about your rights and your options by contacting an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

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James L. Riotto
Criminal Defense Lawyer

James L. Riotto is an accomplished criminal defense attorney serving clients in New York. With an extensive background in law enforcement and criminal prosecution, his approach to each case is unique and informed by years of experience with the New York criminal justice system. As a graduate from Albany Law School and before going on to start his own practice, James worked at the Albany County District Attorney's Office, where he helped prosecute many DWI offenses. His inside knowledge of the tactics used to gain convictions provides him with a particular advantage when defending against DUI and other criminal charges.

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Adam Staier
Of Counsel

About Attorney Adam Staier has spent the last seven years practicing criminal defense law throughout upstate New York and the Capital Region. He began his legal career through internships in civil law, indigent legal representation and federal energy law regulation. Finding a passion in criminal law, Mr. Staier held internships handling both prosecution and defense…

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