Understanding alternative sentencing options for certain New York drug offenses

Amid changing perception of drug crimes by the public and lawmakers, strict punishments remain for the possession of illegal drugs

New York City and its surrounding areas have changed dramatically over the last 20 years. A recent article in The New York Times recounted how New York City was once a place where drugs proliferated and crime was rampant. As The New York Times noted, "Bullets were flying in the cities. Crack wars trapped people in their homes." In response, federal and state lawmakers passed "tough on crime" sentencing laws, including the enactment of mandatory minimum sentences, which severely punished non-violent drug crimes.

Today, most researchers say the "War on Drugs" has failed. Penalties for drug crimes remain potentially severe, however. Between 1979 and 2009, the number of Americans in state or federal prison multiplied four times over, and remains large to this day. According to the Justice Department, the federal prison population is nine times as large as it was in 1980, although the general population has only grown by one-third. And it is still possible today for someone addicted to prescription pain medication or who recreationally smokes marijuana to suffer serious criminal consequences for their actions, despite the fact that marijuana and prescription pain medication are legal in New York for medicinal purposes.

New York laws changing, but slowly

In 2009, New York reformed many of its drug laws. One change is the option for defendants to choose mandatory treatment for low-level drug offenses, rather than incarceration. However, according to a recent Vera Institute report, there has only been a 35 percent increase in criminal defendants moved into mandatory treatment programs since the change to the law in 2009.

Alternative to Incarceration programs (ATI), offer a variety of pretrial and correction alternative programs throughout the state. For example, New York's Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities (TASC) Program offers drug treatment programs for adult defendants accused of non-violent crimes and who have indicators of substance abuse issues. If completed, these treatment programs can result in a lesser sentence or in the prosecution dropping criminal charges.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can help

Understanding the benefits of diversionary programs is a vital part of criminal defense. When facing drug crime charges, a criminal defendant has several options open, including fighting all charges or potentially accepting diversionary sentencing which, if completed, can mitigate some of the harsher consequences of a jail sentence.

However, these decisions are important and a criminal defendant should understand all available options fully before contesting charges or agreeing to plead guilty in exchange for lesser or alternative sentencing.

The attorneys at Lerner & Lerner, P.C., have years of experience representing New Yorkers accused of drug crimes. Lerner & Lerner, P.C. can help criminal defendants protect their constitutional rights and take advantage of available alternative sentencing options if appropriate.

Keywords: New York drug crimes, drug possession, drug treatment, alternative sentencing,