New York Criminal Sentencing Guidelines For Drug Possession or Sale

There are specific sentencing guidelines set by the New York state legislature in Albany for drug possession and sale. Those guidelines differ depending upon the amount of drugs found and the type of drug as well. Those arrested for a drug offense may be able to plead to a lesser crime in some situations. A New York legal expert, Elliot Schlissel, explains how sentencing guidelines work for drug crimes.

New York Criminal Law Attorney Elliot Schlissel

Elliot Schlissel is a Nassau county criminal attorney whose firm represents individuals charged with criminal matters in Manhattan and its surrounding counties, as well as in Suffolk county in Long Island. Mr. Schlissel told us that New York's criminal sentencing guidelines deal largely with the quantity of the drugs involved, and whether one faces a drug charge for sale or for possession. Further, New York specifically provides more severe sentences for crack, cocaine and heroin than they do for marijuana.

New York illegal pharmaceutical drug sales increasing

There’s also the rising phenomenon of legal prescription drugs being illegally acquired or sold. According to Mr. Schlissel: “Very often, drugs such as Vicodin, Oxycontin and Percocet are acquired by people who work in hospitals and then they’re sold on the street. These drugs are prepared by pharmaceutical companies for medicinal purposes, but they’re abused when taken in inappropriate doses by individuals.”

When can New Yorkers plead to a lesser offense?

Regardless of what drug was involved in the arrest, Schlissel explained the types of situations in which someone can plead to a lower level charge of criminal drug possession or sale in New York:

Let’s say an individual is charged with possession of a drug and it turns out that the individual has a drug problem. Attorneys will put the individual in a drug treatment program in order to deal with the drug addiction. If it’s the first offense, and it’s a non-violent offense - meaning that the person didn’t rob someone at gunpoint to obtain money to buy the drug - then the attorney can try to convince the prosecutor that this individual is suffering from an addiction and deserves probation.

In some cases, young people arrested for possession or sale of illegal drugs in New York can participate in something called a “shock program,” whereby young individuals are placed in military-style, intense programs where they do a lot of physical labor. Schlissel explained:

[Shock programs] are in lieu of a sentence in an actual prison for a first offense. The terms of the shock programs are much shorter then the normal prison sentence. Shock programs have been around for many years. The requirements and the types of programs are different. They are very often used for minors or young men or women who are street dealers for crack in New York City, Brooklyn and Queens counties. Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties also work with these programs.

Defining Parole & Probation in New York

Parole and probation, both of which affect sentencing, are terms which are often misunderstood. Schlissel defined each:

  • New York parole: Someone who has been in prison can be paroled. Parole is a period of time where you still must report to a parole officer. You must avoid unsavory habits and people involved in criminal activity, and of course, you must be drug-free.
  • New York probation: Probation, on the other hand, can be given instead of a jail sentence or in combination with a jail sentence. You meet with your probation officer, usually once a month, if you are on probation.

Drug treatment programs & sentencing

Entering a New York drug treatment program also can affect the sentencing for a drug conviction, as many judges understand that drug addiction is a medical condition. He told us, “[Judges] look very affirmatively on someone who is in a drug treatment program. However, going into a drug treatment program is not a 'get out of jail free' situation. It doesn’t mean that you will not get a jail sentence, but it can, in many situations, reduce the jail sentence and/or convince a court to give you an extended period of probation[...] instead of sentencing you to jail.”