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ALBANY � The Senate minority yesterday attempted to “kick start” stalled negotiations on Rockefeller Drug Law reform with a new proposal that would greatly expand probation alternatives for lower-level offenders. While the proposal as submitted has almost no chance of passage � it is considerably more liberal than anything recently on the table � Senate Minority Leader David A. Paterson, D-Manhattan, is hopeful it will refocus attention on an issue that has lagged this session and threatens to drag on for yet another year or two. “We want to try to find a way to kick start discussions,”he said. Mr. Paterson’s proposal would: � Provide a probation alternative for all B-level and lower drug crimes committed by first and second non-violent offenders. Neither Republican Governor George E. Pataki nor the Democratic Assembly would allow probation for second offenders or anyone convicted of a B-level or higher felony. � Effect determinate sentences for all drug crimes. The governor and Assembly both favor determinate sentences, and support of that concept by the Senate Democrats represents a major concession. � Vest judges with ultimate authority to decide which offenders go to prison and which get diverted to treatment. Mr. Pataki would require prosecutorial consent. � Reduce mandatory sentences for each class of felony. Both the governor and Assembly would cut sentences in every category, but not as much as Mr. Paterson. For example, Mr. Pataki proposes a determinate term of 10 years to 20 years for a first time A-1 offender while the Assembly prefers a range of 8 years to 20 years. The Senate minority proposes a sentence of 5 years to 8 years. The minority plan also includes a new “re-entry” component that builds on a program initiated nearly two years ago by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. That initiative, which is designed to assist convicts making the transition from prison to community life, brought New York a $2 million grant for the Targeted Assessment Re-Entry Program in Harlem. Mr. Paterson would expand that effort to high-need areas and, eventually, every county in the state. He said the combination of determinate sentencing, a must with conservatives and a sticking point with liberals, and re-entry, a concept embraced more by the left than the right, is designed to make the proposal at least worthy of consideration by both political camps. Toughest Drug Laws At a Capitol press conference yesterday, Mr. Paterson and members of his conference said the minority proposal stands out in that it is predicated in part on a nationwide survey and queries to nearly 100 prosecutors and defense attorneys across the country. A report based on that survey shows that New York’s drug laws are by far the harshest in the nation. No state has a mandatory minimum as high as New York � 4 1/2 years � and the six states that do require incarceration for drug offenses mandate terms of 3 years or less, according to the study. The vast majority of states allow judges to impose “straight probation” � or a term that includes no jail time, the study shows. “What we are doing as a conference is challenging the district attorneys of New York state to tell us why they need the kind of determinate sentences that puts us out of the mainstream of what’s happening across this nation,” said Senator Thomas K. Duane, a Manhattan Democrat. “When you look at what has happened across the nation, our sentencing procedures are completely and totally and utterly out of line.” Siso Moyo, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said the data released yesterday by the Senate minority shows the “compelling need” for the Senate Republican majority to “pass meaningful reforms of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.” The Senate majority is closely aligned with prosecutors, who are reluctant to relinquish what amounts to a Damocles sword in plea bargain negotiations. Prosecutors say the threat of a heavy sentence is often enough to entice a guilty plea. Mr. Pataki is receptive to the proposal and considers Rockefeller Drug Law reform a priority, according to spokeswoman Lynn Rasic. Oneida County District Attorney Michael A. Arcuri, president of the New York State District Attorneys Association, said he has “some problems” with the Democrats’ proposal, especially that portion that would shift diversion authority from prosecutors to judges. Mr. Arcuri said the association supports treatment alternatives, as long as they are controlled by prosecutors, and would not oppose some tinkering with the mandatory sentences. However, he said prosecutors must retain final say over which offenders are diverted to rehabilitation and which are not. “We feel that as prosecutors we are in the best position to evaluate individuals who come before the judge and we should have input into the sentence,” Mr. Arcuri said. “It should not rest solely upon the discretion of the judge. A judge certainly has a great deal of input, as she should. But so should the prosecutor.” For several years, Mr. Pataki and legislators on both sides of the aisle have called for reform of the tough drug statutes. But after a near miss last year when the governor and Legislature almost came to terms, there has been little discussion or activity. “It was one of the few times I’ve seen bipartisan lobbying on the issue,” Mr. Paterson said of last year’s effort. “It’d be a shame if we let it fall by the wayside.” Conventional wisdom in Albany is that criminal law reforms are politically feasible only in off-election years since no politician running for re-election wants to be vulnerable to a soft-on-crime attack. This year, all 211 seats in the Legislature are up for election. “I didn’t say that this year would be different or that anything would get done,” Mr. Paterson said. “All we came here to say is, we’re trying.”

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