Hundreds of Dominicans being held in municipal and state jails on misdemeanors drug trafficking convictions will begin to reap the benefit of the amendments to the 1973 Rockefeller Law, which imposed automatic sentences even for first time offenders.
The amendments were part of former governor Eliot Spitzer’s campaign promises, and his successor David Paterson pursued it, for which the modified legislation took effect Wednesday.
The previous Law stipulated up to 20 years in jail for any person convicted of, or for having links to drug trafficking, but a few years ago many judges claimed their hands were tied and couldn’t take into account many defendants’ clean record.
The legal imposition led to deportation of thousands of Dominicans and from other Latin American countries after the migratory reform of 1996, which didn’t give them the right to a review of their cases even when their close relatives had U.S. citizenship.
But the amendments will only benefit convicts on drug misdemeanors, who’ll be able to appeal their case or seek lighter sentences.
According to New York Legal Aid Society, the organization successfully handles around 270 cases, of the 1,100 nationwide.
From now on the legislative reform will also allow the judges to send a defendant to treatment centers instead of jail, as a long as there was no violence involved in the drug trafficking case.
Paterson signed the legislation into law under the argument that those who use drugs are patients who need to be treated and not sent to jail.
October 8, 2009