Pubdate: Mon, 06 Nov 2000
Source: Post-Standard, The (NY)
Copyright: 2000, Syracuse Post-Standard
Contact:  P.O. Box 4915, Syracuse, N.Y. 13221-4915
Author: Nicolas Eyle, executive director ReconsiDer: forum on drug policy


To the Editor:
I'd like to explain an important point overlooked in your otherwise 
excellent editorial (Failed Policy, 10.25.'00) on the Rockefeller Drug 
Laws. You correctly point out that a very small number of non-violent drug 
offenders are actually serving time under these laws and ask, "But if the 
justice system in effect is already evading the statutes, what purpose do 
they serve other than undermining respect for the law?" The purpose they 
serve is a major one.

Critical to the continuation of our failed drug policy is the idea that 
very few drug cases actually go to trial. If all the drug offenders 
arrested demanded a jury trial ( their constitutional right), our legal 
system would grind to a halt in a week. Plea-bargaining is therefore 
essential to maintaining drug prohibition. When a non-violent drug offender 
is arrested, he is offered a chance to forego a jury trial and plead guilty 
to a lesser charge and go directly to prison. Should he choose to go to 
trial, the District Attorney would retract the offer of, say, three  years 
for the lesser felony charge and charge him with a Rockefeller Drug Law 
felony  carrying perhaps a 15 year to life sentence. Unless one has a 
reasonable chance at proving  innocence, as well as money to buy good 
counsel, most suspects take what they see as the "easy way out," and plead 
guilty. Thus, the Rockefeller drug laws serve as a club held over the head 
of the suspect.

This use of these harsh laws is what makes prosecutors so un-willing to 
support their repeal and promulgate the impression that they are hardly 
used. They are indeed used, and in the worst possible way: to deny the 
right of a jury trial to thousands of citizens a year, to artificially 
boost the "success rates" of prosecutors' anti-drug activities, and to make 
possible the continuation of a failed policy. This policy guarantees New 
Yorkers more years of increased drug availability and use at lower prices 
than ever before, while stripping them of their constitutional right to a 

Nicolas Eyle, executive director
ReconsiDer: forum on drug policy
205 Onondaga Ave.
Syracuse, NY 13207-1439
Tel: (315)422.6231
Fax: (315)476.1773
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