Resentencing For Individuals Sentenced Under The Rockefeller Drug Laws

Posted On: February 17th, 2014

On January 29, 2014, the Second Department Appellate Division handed down the decision of People v. Brown.  The opinion in this case affirmed the ruling of the Queens County Supreme Court, holding that a parolee is considered “in custody” within the meaning of the recently amended Criminal Procedure Law.  This ruling is very significant, because it expands the group of people that can apply to be resentenced if they were previously sentenced under the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

History of Rockefeller Drug Laws:

As a little background, in 1973, Governor Nelson Rockefeller and the New York State Legislature enacted a series of drug laws that were far and away the toughest in the country. What made these laws so tough were the mandatory minimum prison sentences that attached to certain crimes.  For example, under the Rockefeller Drug Laws, a person arrested and convicted of selling two ounces of marijuana was sentenced to a minimum 15 years in prison. By contrast, today in Colorado or Washington, it is not even against the law to buy, sell, or possess an ounce of marijuana.

In 2004, the New York State legislature started peeling away some of the tougher provisions of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, substituting mandatory drug treatment programs in place of mandatory prison sentences.  In 2009, the legislature went a step further, allowing people sentenced under the original Rockefeller Drug Laws to apply for resentencing under less strict sentencing guidelines. At the time, the law stated that anyone “in the custody of the department of correctional services” could apply for resentencing.  In 2009, the department of correctional services and the division of parole were separate entities.  In 2011, however, New York merged the two groups together forming the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

So the question in People v. Brown became: are people on parole in the custody of “correctional services?”  The answer, says the Second Department Appellate Division, is YES.

What Does This Mean?

If a person has been sentenced under the Rockefeller Drug Laws before 2005, they are legally entitled to apply to be resentenced, even if serving out the rest of their sentence on parole.  The impact of this case could be felt across the State for those on parole.  For instance, in People v. Brown, the defendant was convicted in 2002, and sentenced to 6-12 years in prison.  After nearly eight years in prison, he was conditionally released on parole in 2011, with an expiration of 2017.  With his new resentencing, his parole expired in July of 2012, five years earlier than had he not been able to apply for resentencing.

At LaMarche Safranko Law, we are committed to staying informed and up to date on the latest developments in the law. http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Top-judge-proposes-record-changes-5223958.php

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