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March 2, 2009

Might prosecutors keep New York from finally "dropping the rock"?

The New York Times yesterday had this long piece, headlined  "Legislation to Overhaul Rockefeller Drug Laws Moves Ahead Swiftly," which discusses the history of New York's mandatory drug sentencing laws, as well as current reform efforts.  Here are one notable excerpt:

As lawmakers debate changing the drug laws in the weeks ahead, restoring judicial discretion will be one of the thorniest issues in the discussions.  The Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, said he thinks any plan that does not give judges authority to send drug offenders to treatment is doomed to fail.

“I think any bill that doesn’t provide that diversion option is really not something that’s significant reform, plain and simple,” Mr. Silver said in an interview. “There is nothing else at this point that would be meaningful in terms of reform.”

But the idea of restoring full judicial discretion is troubling to many prosecutors, who in a vast majority of drug crimes must give consent before a suspect is ordered to a treatment program.

“The district attorney’s input would be taken out of the equation,” said Bridget G. Brennan, the special narcotics prosecutor for New York City. “When I look at cases, I want to have the discretion as gatekeeper, to make sure that somebody I put back out in the community is not going to pose a public safety threat. A district attorney has a much clearer picture of a community’s concerns.” But under the plans favored by the governor, the Assembly and the Senate, prosecutors would lose that veto power.

This excerpt provides an effective window into why prosecutors tend to be fans of mandatory sentencing laws.  Prosecutors rarely believe that any and all persons who commit a certain type of offense should be subject to the same mandatory sentencing term, rather they just appreciate being the initial and chief decision-maker concerning whether and when a particular offender should be able to avoid a sentencing mandate.  Having that power in prosecutorial hands typically makes it much easier for prosecutors to secure cooperation and plea agreements on terms prosecutors find favorable.

March 2, 2009 at 09:47 AM | Permalink

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Comments

"The district attorney’s input would be taken out of the equation."

Yes, if by "input" you mean "absolute control".

Posted by: Semantics | Mar 2, 2009 10:25:07 AM

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