KB, a man in declining health, had spent eleven years in prison on a $10 drug sale. CAL's advocacy under the 2009 Drug Law Reform Act won KB's immediate release from prison. CAL then welcomed KB into its re-entry program, where arrangements were made to meet his urgent medical needs.
Starting in 2004, the New York Legislature began reforming the harsh drug sentences known as the Rockefeller Drug Laws. These RDL sentences had consigned even street level offenders, those often selling small amounts of drugs to support their own brutal addiction, to long mandatory prison terms, and required life sentences for individuals convicted of more serious drug offenses.
With the advent of drug law reform came the opportunity for individuals serving RDL sentences to return to court and ask for new, shorter sentences, in line with current sentencing norms. CAL has been involved in this effort from the start. Since 2004, we've been obtaining new sentences for clients who were incarcerated on old-law drug sentences. First we sought relief for those serving life sentences. With the passage of the 2009 Drug Law Reform Act, we brought scores of motions for clients still serving RDL sentences on their low-level drug offenses. CAL’s prompt action and aggressive advocacy have won many of these clients shorter sentences, often earning them immediate release and the opportunity for therapeutic treatment of their addiction. As the law in this area evolves, we continue to bring motions for our clients, developing new theories to widen the pool of eligible individuals.
CAL has also been at the forefront of appellate litigation in this area, winning significant victories in the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeals. These decisions have clarified novel issues of statutory interpretation and conferred eligibility for resentencing on large classes of people. And, in a prime example of CAL’s integrated approach to lawyering, those clients whose new sentences win them immediate or imminent release are welcomed into our Re-entry Program, where our social worker, Susannah Karlin, works with them to ease the difficult transition from prison to society.
Barbara Zolot and David Klem coordinate the DLRA project.