Motion for Re-sentencing Under New York Drug Reform Laws

In People v. LaFontaine, 9 Misc 3d 434, 799 N.Y.S.2d 729 (Sup. Ct. NY Co. 2005), the Court found that substantial justice dictated that it deny a defendant's motion for re-sentencing under the Drug Reform Laws. Defendant therein was a seller of multi-kilogram quantities of heroin and cocaine, and the leader of a thirteen-plus member drug conspiracy. According to the Court, "the narcotics that defendant routinely distributed throughout New York City destroyed lives, ruined families and wrecked the community." (People v. LaFontaine, 9 Misc 3d at 440, 799 N.Y.S.2d at 733.) The Court found that substantial justice warranted that it deny the defendant's motion for re-sentencing since the defendant was not an individual within the category of persons whom the Drug Reform Laws sought to assist. Id. Notably, in rendering its decision, the Court in People v. LaFontaine stated that there is no explanation in the statute concerning what constitutes "substantial justice", nor is there any specific statutory guidance regarding when "substantial justice" warrants the denial of an application for re-sentencing. (People v. LaFontaine, 9 Misc 3d at 437, 799 N.Y.S.2d at 731.) The Court therefore considered the circumstances that led to the enactment of the statute, one of which was to ameliorate Draconian sentences imposed against first time, or low-level drug offenders. Indeed, the Court in People v. LaFontaine described the purpose of the statute as follows: For decades, politicians, the public, and the press, have denounced the mandatory sentences required under the so-called Rockefeller drug laws as harsh and Draconian. Periodically, the news media would draw public attention to a tragic story of someone jailed for up to twenty-five years to life for participating in a single drug sale for fiscal or addiction considerations. The legislators who supported the new statute identified those deserving of more lenient treatment as low-level, non-violent drug offenders, first-time offenders who were misguided in their youth, mules, addicts driven to possession or selling drugs because of a drug habit, or others duped or coerced into a drug transaction by a supposed friend or a domineering spouse. As the Senate Majority Leader said when speaking in support of the new sentencing scheme, the new statute serves to "help the offenders get out of trouble, straighten out their lives, be productive and constructive citizens." (People v. LaFontaine, 9 Misc 3d at 437-438, 799 N.Y.S.2d at 731-732.)