Pubdate: Sat, 08 Jun 2002
Source: Record, The (NY)
Address: 501 Broadway Troy, New York 12180
Contact:  2002 The Record
Author: Joel Stashenko, The Associated Press


ALBANY - Gov. George Pataki released a new proposal Friday to change 
mandatory sentencing laws for drug possession dating back to the days of 
former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.

While Pataki portrayed the plan as a compromise designed to meet 
legislative objections to his earlier proposals, the initiative was 
immediately panned by critics who said the Republican governor is still not 
going far enough to ease the drug laws.

"Yet another press release from the governor," said John Dunne, a former 
Republican state senator who voted for the original "Rockefeller drug laws" 
but who now favors reform.

Chauncey Parker, Pataki's criminal justice services coordinator, said the 
governor's plan was developed over the last four months in discussions with 
prosecutors, the Bar Association, prison reform groups and other interested 

"Our proposal was not created in a lab without input of other people," 
Parker said Friday. "We talked with many different people in an effort to 
truly reach compromise."

While Dunne and other opponents complained Friday of not seeing a bill 
embodying Pataki's proposal, his spokeswoman Caroline Quartararo said a 
copy of draft legislation had been sent to Dunne and several others on May 28.

Pataki said his plan would allow more people into drug treatment by 
expanding the categories of drug offenders eligible for such referrals. The 
governor said, however, defendants must not have violence in their criminal 
records to be eligible for treatment.

The governor said he'd also give more discretion to judges when sentencing 
nonviolent drug felons and reduce sentence length in some cases. For Class 
A-1 drug felons who are now subject to a minimum of 15 years to life in 
prison for a conviction, Pataki said his proposal would reduce their 
sentences to as little as 7 years and 2 months in prison.

Pataki's plan would also increase sentences for violent and major drug 
traffickers. People who arm themselves while selling marijuana or narcotics 
would be subject to a five-year mandatory sentence, whether they use the 
firearm or not, and be considered a violent felon ineligible for diversion 
to a drug treatment program, Parker said.

The unveiling of a bill by Pataki follows Wednesday's release of the 
Democratic state Assembly's bargaining position on easing the drug laws.

The Assembly said its bill would continue to give judges more sentencing 
discretion than the governor favors, and prosecutors less power to block 
the diversion of defendants into drug treatment than the governor would allow.

"The concept of pushing the prosecutor out of that process is bad for 
public safety and bad for treatment programs," Parker said.

The Pataki plan also differs from the Assembly's by requiring defendants 
who are otherwise eligible for drug treatment to plead guilty to their 
offense prior to being sent to treatment, Parker said. The Assembly plan 
would allow defendants to be found guilty after jury trials to still be 
diverted into treatment.

Acknowledging guilt has been shown to help people to successfully complete 
drug treatment programs, Parker said.

The Republican-controlled state Senate quickly endorsed Pataki's proposal 
Friday. Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said it "strikes the right balance" 
between treatment for nonviolent addicts and tougher penalties for hardened 

A spokeswoman for Democrats in the state Assembly said Pataki's proposal 
"is not moving this issue forward."

Robert Gangi, head of the Correctional Association prison watchdog group, 
said both the Assembly plan and the Pataki plan have flaws.

"Our fundamental critique of both plans is they both include broad 
exceptions in terms of the drug offenders who would be eligible to 
diversion," Gangi said.

The harshest of the Rockefeller drug laws date to 1973 and 1974. 
Rockefeller insisted on their adoption at a time when narcotics, especially 
heroin, was plaguing inner-city neighborhoods around the state.
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