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May 31, 2006

Questioning Utah's drug-free zone laws

Earlier this week, the Salt Lake Tribune ran this fascinating article discussing the operation of Utah's drug-free zone laws. The article is entitled "Utah prison chiefs say no to drug law: School, church zones misused to beef up sentences, they say."  Here are some highlights:

Kurt Garner, vice chairman of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, [has asked] the Legislature to rethink the state's drug-free-zone penalty enhancement, which applies to both the possession and sale of drugs within 1,000 feet of schools, child-care facilities, parks, churches, shopping malls, sports facilities or parking lots.  The law, designed to keep drugs away from children, has instead created disproportionately long sentences for some offenders, coerced others into pleading guilty to weak cases that would have otherwise been challenged at trial or dismissed, and been inconsistently enforced by police and prosecutors.

Garner said in one rural county, police arrested a man who had used drugs, put him in a patrol car and drove him past a school — a drug-free zone — so they could seek the stiffer penalty.  In other counties, police have deliberately set up undercover buys in church or school parking lots, or initiated stops in front of a parking lot to trigger the more serious charge, Michael Sibbits, former chairman of the Board of Pardons and Parole, wrote in a letter to the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee.

Most offenders slapped with the enhanced penalty have never dealt drugs or used drugs around children — the very people the law is supposed to protect.  In October, Christine Mitchell, deputy director of the Utah Department of Corrections, looked at 45 first-degree felony cases over a 12-month period.  In only three cases were children present when the offense occurred.

Some related posts about drug-free zone laws:

May 31, 2006 at 11:24 AM | Permalink

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Posted by: | Oct 14, 2008 11:08:19 PM

Thanks for the news. I work as a criminal defense attorney. Anytime a client of mine is charge with "drug free zone" (if it is illegal then all places should be a drug free)I go to the location of the arrest and walk to the place that triggered the enhanced charge to make sure it is within 1,000 feet.

Today, I walked a site and the apartment is not within 1,000 feet of the church. In fact, the college is more than 800 blocks from the site of the arrest.

I then both Google and Yahoo driving directions and the church is more than .18 tenth of a mile.

In my opinion, police always charge suspects with drug free zone (dfc) if they can see or think of a dfc, so prosecutors have more leverage in the plea negotiation process.

Posted by: Neil Harris | Apr 23, 2011 4:56:47 PM

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