An aggressive effort is under way to dismantle what remains of the stringent 1970s-era Rockefeller drug laws in New York State, which imposed stiff mandatory sentences as a way to combat a heroin epidemic gripping New York City. The New York Times say the state assembly is expected to pass legislation Tuesday that would again give judges the discretion to send those found guilty of having smaller amounts of illegal drugs to substance-abuse treatment instead of prison and allow thousands of inmates convicted of nonviolent drug offenses to apply to have their sentences reduced or commuted. The Senate is expected to take up legislation in the coming weeks that would also be aimed at strengthening judges' roles in sentencing. “Returning discretion to judges is really the heart of where we want to go,” said Jeffrion Aubry, an assemblyman who has led efforts to overturn the statutes.
In 2004, the legislature eliminated life sentences for drug crimes and reducing other penalties for the most serious offenses. The idea of restoring full judicial discretion is troubling to many prosecutors, who usually must consent before a suspect is ordered to a treatment program. Senate Republicans, who hold 30 of the 62 seats in the chamber, could block a bill that they deem too lenient by recruiting just one Democrat. Republicans are concerned about allowing offenders to use treatment as a get-out-of-jail-free option.