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Sentencing: No Retroactive Relief for Rockefeller Drug Law Prisoners, New York Appeals Court Rules

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #455)
Politics & Advocacy

People serving tough mid-level sentences under New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws will not be able to get those sentences reduced if they were convicted before drug sentencing reforms took effect in January 2005, the state's highest court ruled September 21. In its opinion in the consolidated cases of three men sentenced under the old laws, the court held that the legislature intended only to cut the sentences of those newly convicted.

not enough: Gov. Pataki signs Rockefeller reform bill, 12/04
Under the Drug Law Reform Act that came into effect last year, some 400 prisoners facing the most severe sentences -- up to life -- were allowed to seek retroactive sentence cuts. But thousands of prisoners doing lesser, but still severe, sentences were not explicitly granted that right. Three of them -- Thomas Thomas Utsey, Michael Nelson and Corey Smith -- appealed to the Court of Appeals, arguing they should have had the same opportunity to seek retroactive redress.

But in a unanimous decision, the court said no way. The bill clearly stated that the law would "apply to crimes committed on or after the effective date," the court noted. "Under the plain language of the statute, the relevant provisions of the DLRA are intended to apply only to crimes committed after its effective date," Chief Judge Judith Kaye said in her decision. "That being so, defendants are not eligible for the reduced penalties contained in the new law."

It took years of dogged effort by a broad coalition of civil rights, prison reform, and drug reform groups to win even the partial reform that was approved in 2004. Now, the New York courts have strongly signaled that any further relief must come through that same cumbersome legislative process.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

I thought the bill would apply retro-actively. It seems like wool over the general citizens and the convicted fellons eyes, that it does not.

I personally do not think anyone should serve more than 20 years in prison for any crime; for the most atrocious, they should receive death.

The max for 1st time drug sellers and users should be 5 years.

The law was put in place to kill off minorities, which this country, especially New York City, transparently show their abhorence of every year or two by letting police officers kill unarmed minorities without any penalty what so ever.

So it stands. The fight must continue on for equality and justice in this country.

Fri, 05/30/2008 - 12:08pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I was sentenced under the Rockefella Law in 2001 and need help finding a way of this life parole.. Please Help me...

Mon, 10/20/2008 - 6:45pm Permalink

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