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December 20, 2013

New Sentencing Project policy brief on drug-free zones

I just received an e-mail promoting this new briefing paper from The Sentencing Project titled Drug-Free Zone Laws: An Overview of State Policies. Here is how the paper starts:

The premise behind drug-free zone laws was that drug trafficking near schools posed a danger to children. In order to protect children from drug activity, lawmakers established protected zones around the places where children were most likely to be present, including schools and public parks. Individuals caught using or selling drugs within the protected zone faced substantially higher penalties than others who engaged in the same conduct outside the zone.

The application of drug-free school zone laws has proved problematic for several reasons:

• First, in the sentencing schemes of several states defendants may face two distinct penalties for a single offense.

• Second, the laws are frequently drafted so broadly that they result in enhanced penalties for drug offenses that are a substantial distance from a school, that do not involve school children in the offense, or take place outside of school hours.  In Alabama, for example, a drug sale that takes place as much as three miles from a school, college, or public housing project is subject to a mandatory five-year prison term.

• Third, because protected areas are clustered within urban, high-density population areas, the zones disproportionately affect people of color and economically disadvantaged citizens.

In recent years, these problems have led at least seven states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and South Carolina, to reform their drug-free zone laws.  This briefing paper provides an overview of these statutes nationally and an assessment of reform activity in recent years.

December 20, 2013 at 09:40 AM | Permalink


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Drug free zones are just one more way that "law enforcement" gains an outrageous upper hand in plea bargains and sentencing. Any busy defense attorney can cite numerous cases he has dealt with where the police or the local "drug task force" followed their target around in a car until he passed a school or the like so that they could pull in over in a drug free zone and arrest him. The enhanced penalties and charges ensure that the defendant does not dare risk trial and the DA knows that he holds all the cards at plea bargaining, and for no better reason that somewhere on his route home or away, he passed withing 1000 feet of a school. Something that he could not avoid no matter what he did.

Posted by: Mike | Dec 20, 2013 3:54:30 PM


I agree with you 100%. The idea of "Drug Free Zones" is as ludicrous as is the idea of "Gun Free Zones". They are simply an additional "gotcha", just like using a "computer" in the commission of a crime. You add an "enhancement" on an already illegal activity with everyday, normal activities for no other reason that I can think of but just because "the law" says you can. Well, there is no respect for irrational laws, no matter what dumb lawmakers and their apologists think. All it does is breed resentment and disrespect. Look at how Prohibition led to more criminals and general governmental disrespect. Same idea, new generation.

But just try too take away this "enhancement" from LE and prosecutors and they would howl so loud that you would think the world was coming to an end and that criminals would run rampant. I do not expect LE to protect me and my family. That is my job!

I trust my government less and less everyday because I am not as stupid as they think.

Posted by: albeed | Dec 20, 2013 5:49:13 PM

That's exactly what happened to a family member of mine. By the time all enhancements were added, he ended up with 17.5 yrs in federal prison. Pleading out was better than risking a near life sentence going to trial. The time and crime do not factor out at all. With a few yrs remaining, we're hopeful that the smarter sentencing or safety valve acts could bring him home soon.

Posted by: Midtn | Dec 21, 2013 8:23:16 AM

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