Racial Disparities in Drug Law Enforcement

drugs-are-badIt is a well-known fact that the U.S. in prisons poor people and any other nation on earth. Some have stated that the U.S. has 5 times as many people in jail than is the case in England or the entire country of Germany. In reality, there’s no historical precedent for massive numbers of inmates in the U.S. Just several decades ago drug offenders, for example, was not worried about judges’ giving long sentences. But then jurisdictions like New York begin coming down hard on drug offenders. the most well-known drug reform laws and perhaps the entire United States are known as the Rockefeller laws. They are called such because they were first proposed by the governor Rockefeller.

What’s the increase in the inmate population most States have had to build more prisons and I are more prison guards. Some criticized the prison system justice system for feeding jails and prisons more and more prisoners. Due to the overly harsh drug laws it is now estimated that over 2 million people reside as inmates in U.S. prisons for various crimes.

Initially, Rockefeller’s drug laws were no stranger new criticism from the public. Drug treatment professionals were the first to critique the law in a negative manner for its focus on imprisonment rather than treatment. Despite this the laws continued on the books and many people were
subject to a harsh punishment for minor possession of drugs or drug type paraphernalia. Many states soon followed suit and enacted very tough legislation regarding drug use and possession.

Many people involved in the justice system say that the system lacks the very element contained in its name, justice. Some criminal lawyers have noted that the criminal justice system disproportionately sentences blacks Hispanics and sometimes Asians to longer terms than their white counterparts. Most cases a young black man and a young white man caught in the same circumstance with the same type of drug will be treated very differently by the court system. The white girl will usually get some sort of drug treatment program placed on probation. The black man will usually end up doing several years in jail or prison and will become further intertwined into the criminal lifestyle.

This type disparity has been documented several times in reference to the Rockefeller laws. Since the advent of the war on drugs many have studied the statistical numbers related to arrest in New York City and the state as a whole. For example in the year 1980 when the war on drugs began, 886 people were arrested for drug type offenses. Almost 40% of the people arrested were black almost 30% were Latino and about 30% or white.

Just over a decade afterward, around the year 1990, the statistics change dramatically. Out of approximately 8000 arrests and new incarceration’s over half of the people arrested were black/African-American. Another 40% of the people arrested were Hispanic or Latino. Surprisingly a mere 6% of people arrested or white or Caucasian. Some people may play devils advocate this information and argue that since people in low income minority members are more likely to use drugs they are more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for this type of crime. However the government study found that in the New York metropolitan area about 1.8 million adults engage in some type of drug use. This amounted to over 10% of the total adult population in that metric principles area. Alarmingly 72% of the people surveyed or about 1.3 million residents who admitted to using drugs were white.

Now again one might argue maybe whites are using drugs more but blacks and Hispanics are the ones actually engaging in the production and sales of drugs hence the higher arrest numbers. However this is not totally true. Other researchers shown that most drug users choose to buy the drug of choice persons of the same race. This proved to be the same regardless of the type of drug use. The study also showed that drug sales occurred much more often in white neighborhoods than that of black or Hispanic cigarettes. Yet these crimes were never detected or prosecuted because they usually occurred in private settings such as homes and other private types of property. In stark contrast, most of the drug sales for minority neighborhoods occurred on the streets or in public areas were easily viewable by police and the law enforcement agencies.

Although the geographic and methodical strategies used in selling drugs may differ and may account for some of the disparity overall there seems to be harsher enforcement in minority communities. This can be explained somewhat by the war on drugs’ focus on poor inner-city areas. On some level it is easier for police departments to arrest or detain people in socially disorganized communities. Using this type of focused arrest strategy helps police departments to pad their numbers and obtain more funding from state and local governments. In essence the attack on coming communities containing minorities is actually a financial decision as well as a racial one.

Take for example the New York Police Department. In the year 2006 they conducted over 500,000 stops in minority communities. It was found that approximately 55% of those stop were black Americans while about 30% were of Hispanic descent. Only about 10% of the people who were stopped and searched for actually white. Now if that was not enough it was also found that 90% of the people stopped for engaging in no type of illegal activity at all. This clearly shows a pattern of targeting minority people and assuming that they are carrying out crimes when the truth is they’re merely going about their daily business.

One more area of statistics that is interesting in this analysis is that involving marijuana arrests. It has
been widely established that whites blacks and Hispanics possibly use marijuana at about the same rate. However we look at the arrest statistics for marijuana use in public over 50% of those arrested or
African-American. Another 30% of those arrested for marijuana use were Latino. Just over 10% of the people arrested for smoking marijuana were white individuals. Overall a pattern is fairly clear, and drug laws (the Rockefeller Drug Laws in particular) have resulted in a disparate impact on minorities when compared to the statistical information involving crimes committed by whites.

A General Point About the Rockefeller Laws

photo of new york city manhattanThe New York State Legislature established changes to the “Rockefeller drug laws” to permit the modification of criminal sentences to minimize existing sentences for drug crimes. In any case, re-sentencing under the Reform Acts cannot be viewed as a predetermined right to sentence modification.

What is the DRLA All About?

The principal reform law applies to a litigant who got a sentence of 15 years to life or more as stated in N.Y.  Penal Law section 70. This section can be viewed in its entirety at L 2004, ch 738, § 36. The court will afford the defendant a presumption that re-sentencing is proper unless the prosecution can overcome the standard that substantial justice does not support such a modification. In other words, although the defendant does have the benefit of a legal presumption, he or she cannot merely rely on the law to give them a clear and easy path to sentence reform. Just look at all the requirements involved in the qualification process:

  • The offense must fall within Penal Code section 220
  • It cannot be applied to a Class A crime
  • The inmate/defendant cannot be within the last 3 years of his or her sentence which would end in a discharge with parole.
  • Finally, VFO sentences will make the defendant ineligible if they are running concurrently or act as previous sentences.

The Process for DLRA-2

When an inmate’s counsel, or a pro se litigant, makes a motion for re-sentencing, the matter will be heard by the original sentencing judge if possible. If not, the case will be sent to another judge in that criminal department. The defendant’s entire criminal record is relevant for the the judge’s decision on the matter. However, no additional investigations will be performed by the court or parole department. The most important aspect to remember is that the defendant is allowed to present mitigating evidence to aid the court in deciding in his or her favor. This may be done in the form of a pre-sentence memo.

Once the motion is properly filed and all notice has been given, the court must hold a hearing on the matter. The judge has authority under Penal Law section 70.71 to vacate the prior sentence if the circumstances warrant such. The court may then apply determinate sentencing for a proper term. If the case is denied, it is possible that the defendant can seek an appeal. Either way, the court’s order must include findings of fact which explain the basis for the decision.

DLRA-2 applies to re-sentencing of class An II drug lawful offenses where the defendant’s base term is 3 years. If this is the case, the qualified detainee may apply for the reform to get a determinate term under section 70.71.It is inapplicable to prisoners inside one year of parole related discharge. However, the law rejects litigants who had connected for and were denied parole. The statute requires composed discoveries after giving or denying re-sentencing.

The criteria incorporates good time qualification, which is inaccessible to somebody serving a sentence that included an act considered a heinous crime. Once it is determined that a sentence emanates from a crime involving a seriously violent offense, the defendant is summarily ineligible. At the end of the day, this reform only helps small time criminals who might be able to turn their lives around. Serious, dangerous criminals will have no benefit under the reform laws.