April 3, 2009


New Legislation Provides for Judicial Discretion, Expanded Drug Treatment Opportunities

New York State Bar Association President Bernice K. Leber (Arent Fox LLP) today commended state leaders for approving legislation that would substantially overhaul and reform New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws.  The agreement provides reasonable alternatives to the harsh sentences that the laws mandated by returning to judges discretion to divert non-violent addicts to treatment.  Certain previously-sentenced, non-violent offenders can now seek re-sentencing according to the new law.  The reform bill also greatly expands access to drug treatment programs.  Funding for treatment programs will be available from federal stimulus monies provided to the state through "Byrne/Justice Assistance Grant (JAG)" initiatives.

"For many years, there has been a general recognition that the Rockefeller Drug Laws have failed to achieve their goal of deterring drug use," said Leber.  "Today, with passage of this comprehensive reform legislation, New York is taking a giant step toward eliminating the devastating cycle of drug abuse with no hope of rehabilitation.  This legislation recognizes the critically important need to provide for judicial discretion - a common sense criminal justice reform that will lead to additional drug treatment opportunities for non-violent drug offenders, saving taxpayers millions of dollars currently being wasted on ineffective and unduly harsh prison sentences."

In March of this year, President Leber wrote to members of the State Senate urging them to support legislation passed by the State Assembly that would return sentencing discretion back to the state's judges.     

"The State Bar has long-championed giving judges the authority to determine sentencing outcomes with respect to drug crimes," Leber continued.  "These new reforms strike the right balance by providing rehabilitation services where they are most needed while at the same time ensuring that strong penalties for drug kingpins remain the focus of criminal prosecutions.  I want to commend Governor Paterson and members of the State Legislature for coming together to enact these much-needed drug law reforms."

The 76,000 member New York State Bar Association is the official statewide organization of lawyers in New York and the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation.  Founded in 1876, State Bar programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years.