The Rockefeller Drug Laws

The Rockefeller Drug Laws (“the RDL”) were enacted in 1973 principally through the New York State Substance Control Act (“1973 Act”). They deal with the sale and possession of drugs in New York State Penal Law. They were introduced in response to a growing problem with drug use in New York in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was felt by the authorities at the time that this could only be combatted by introducing tough jail sentences. The RDL expanded on the prevalence of drug control provisions in the Penal Law and specified out some of the toughest sentences in the country for drug offences. They removed the ability of judges to apply discretion to drug crimes and instituted harsh minimum jail sentences for those found guilty. The RDL proved highly controversial and were the subject of further legislation in 2004 and 2009 that reduced minimum sentences, and reintroduced discretion to judicial decision making, allowing alternative punishment such as treatment programs to be used in sentencing guilty parties. There are two major crimes under the RDL: Possession of drugs -possession can be either physical possession where the drugs are found on the person, or what is called constructive possession. Constructive possession is where it can be proven that the accused had control over the person or place where the drugs were found. The Penal Code specifically makes the presence of drugs in a car a situation where it is presumed that everyone in that car had possession. The classification of the offence and the penalties that apply depends on the amount and type of the drug the offender is found with. Offences range from Class E (the least serious) to Class A (the most serious) For example possession of less than 500 milligrams of cocaine without any intent to supply is classed as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. The law specifies the type of drug and amount required for the offence to fall into each classification. Sale of drugs – if there is an intent to supply in relation to any drug this will always be a felony. The classification of the felony and the penalty will depend upon both the type of drug and the amount involved.