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Defendant Appeals Drug Conviction, Arguing Violation of 8th and 14th Amendments


On November 7, 1974, the Supreme Court of Monroe County, New York was called upon to hear the appeal of a drug possession conviction. A New York man was convicted after a jury trial of “Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the First Degree based on a $5000.00 sale of cocaine, Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Fifth Degree, and Criminally Using Drug Paraphernalia in the Second Degree.” The appeal of the offender’s cocaine possession and sale case was based on the contention by the offender that the state’s statute was written in violation of the United States Constitution.

The offender claims that the punishment imposed on Class A drug felons is cruel and unusual in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The defendant argued that the sentences for drug offenses in New York are disproportionate to the offenses themselves. He sites in his behalf that other jurisdictions have lowered their mandated sentences when they were determined to be disproportionate. He contends that New York’s failure to do so makes them in violation of the United States Constitution.

Secondly, the defendant claims that the legislation is an arbitrary classification which denies equal protection of the laws because New York’s Class A drug offenses are punished more severely than Class A drug offenses in other jurisdictions.

The court finds that the severity of punishment for Class A drug felonies is fair and equitable in that to their minds, Class A drug felonies “represent a most serious and constant threat to our society.” They go on to cite that drug trafficking and its consequences are one of the foremost problems in the minds of all citizens. The contention that other more serious and violent crimes are dealt with less severely than Class A drug felonies is an argument that begs question before the Court. The court considers street level drug deals to be but one phase in a larger scale of criminal activity.

They contend that the nature of drug trafficking is that it does not stop with the street sale of a drug but continues as new persons become addicted. The addicts then commit other crimes and victimize other people to supply their habits. The justices point out that there was substantial support prior to the current legislation to make the sale of any narcotics, hallucinogenics or amphetamines a life sentence without parole.

The conviction is upheld and the defendant’s motion is denied in its entirety.

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