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Court Rules of Constitutionality of the Drug Law of 1972


On October 16, 1974, the Albany County Court in People v. Hollingsworth had an occasion to rule on the constitutionality of the penalty imposed by the Drug Law of 1973. The said law imposes a mandatory penalty of life imprisonment on certain drug crimes, making the penalty equivalent to that of heinous crimes, such as kidnapping or murder.

In the said case, the defendant was charged with the criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree. Prior to trial, the defendant sought the dismissal of the case because, according to him, the law infringes on his constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, among others. He anchored his claim on the decision of the Monroe County Court in People v. Mosley, where it was held that certain provisions of the Drug Law is unconstitutional for being a cruel and unusual punishment.

In drug possession cases, it must be noted that the standard by which the court must determine whether a particular punishment is cruel and unusual, and hence violative of the Constitutions, is the modern concept of cruelty and unusualness prevailing in society at the time the question is raised.

In People v. Mosley, the Court held that the sale of a drug is not a violent act and the sale itself does not present a danger to the user or to the society. However, in this case of People v. Hollingsworth, the Court gave a different opinion. It was stated that one does not have to look very far to find the broken lives caused by drug abuse nor does one have to possess the logical ability of an Einstein to perceive the causal connection between rampant drug abuse in this State and Country and a major percentage of the number of crimes of violence, causing destruction to life and property. All of this is precipitated by the drug dealer. The sale of illicit drugs is potentially as dangerous as any crime of violence to person or property or, even more so, since the seller not only ruins the life of the purchaser but also the many innocent people whose property and lives are taken and victimized by the addict.

Moreover, a State statute cannot be deemed unconstitutional simply because there is a disagreement between the Courts and the State Legislature as to the best way to deal with convicted drug sellers. The principle well entrenched in our law is that the judiciary may not substitute its judgment and discretion for the judgment of the Legislature. It is the Legislature which has the power to fix the penalty for crimes, and just because the penalty imposed for certain drug crimes is severe, does not mean that there is a violation of the Constitutions.

While the Court in People v. Hollingsworth upheld the constitutionality of the Drug Law, it nevertheless expressed its disapproval on the method of dealing with drug crimes because the law removes the flexibility which is necessary for imposing just sentences. To reconcile the problem, the Court called upon the Legislature to re-evaluate its position and maintain the present maximum sentence for such crimes, while at the same time remove the mandatory provisions of the statute. This method would allow the individual sentencing Judge to duly function as a Judge and to make the determination as to what is best for society and the individual, based upon the facts of the particular case.

Whether you have been charged with sex crimes, drug possession or a weapns charge, call Stephen Bilkis and Associates for advice. Our legal team can argue your side of the case and make sure that your rights are protected.

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