Monday, July 28, 2008

An Urban Bias in Massachusetts' Drug-Free Zone Law?

As detailed in this press release, FAMM reports that Massachusetts' drug-free zone law may be leading to increased punishment for minorities and the poor who reside in urban areas.  The law in question currently imposes a two-year mandatory minimum sentence for offenders convicted of certain drug crimes within 1,000 feet of school property.  FAMM suggests that in densely populated urban areas, where schools and people are packed closely together, the law effectively transforms the entire urban area into a drug-free zone, and punishes drug offenses occurring in urban areas more harshly than the same offenses occurring in suburban areas.  Here is a relevant excerpt:

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a national, nonpartisan organization working for fair and proportional sentencing laws, says that Massachusetts is not alone in confronting problems caused by mandatory minimum drug and drug-free zone laws.  "This report provides yet more evidence of the unintended -- yet very harmful -- consequences of well-meaning but counter-productive legislation.  Massachusetts' joint Judiciary Committee understands the issue, as it recently filed House Bill 5004, which would reduce the size of school zones and eliminate the mandatory minimum sentence for first time offenders.  We strongly support these Committee proposals, which would protect public safety while ensuring fair and proportionate sentences," said Barbara J. Dougan, director of the Massachusetts FAMM project.  "Reform of drug and drug-free zone laws could save the state millions in corrections costs and reduce the human and fiscal waste of mandatory minimum drug sentences," said Dougan.  "FAMM welcomes the opportunity to work with the Patrick Administration and legislators to this end."

Massachusetts' drug-free zone laws require a two-year mandatory minimum sentence for those convicted of distributing or possessing with intent to sell drugs within 1,000 feet of school property, or 100 feet of parks or playgrounds.  The report shows that 1,000 foot zones are so large that most drug activity within them has nothing to do with children.  When an entire urban area becomes a drug-free zone, the law has no deterrent effect.  Instead, it punishes drug offenses occurring in urban areas more harshly than the same crimes committed in rural or suburban communities.

"The report illustrates the shameful racial disparities that result from drug-free zone laws.  People of color are hit hardest.  Urban residents are five times more likely to be subject to these laws.  According to the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission, a staggering 81 percent of those convicted of zone violations were African-American or Latino," said Dougan.

Guest bloggers

July 28, 2008 in Guest blogging by Proskauer Rose | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Guest Blogging

Dear Readers:

We are thrilled to be guest blogging at Sentencing Law & Policy during Doug Berman's great two-week vacation and voyage out to sea. We are criminal defense attorneys at the firm of Proskauer Rose. We share a special interest in the world of sentencing, both as defense lawyers and as commentators. We are also great fans of the criminal law blogosphere, which unites academics, practitioners, politicians, jurists, and others interested in the field of criminal law and policy and encourages them to share their insight and experience.

Our hope as guest bloggers is to help narrow the gap between the law and policy of sentencing on the one hand, and the community of practicing attorneys on the other. In this role, we will continue to deliver the latest sentencing news, as well as provide some perspective into sentencing from the viewpoint of practitioners. As part of this effort, we plan to host a column dedicated to exploring the views from the field, with the hope of sparking meaningful debate among our fellow practitioners. This blog relies on your loyal readership and thoughtful comments. Please send any suggestions to Mark, Matt, Anna, or Jenn at the e-mail addresses listed below. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the many important sentencing issues to come.

Mark D. Harris (

Matthew S. Queler (

Anna G. Kaminska (

Jennifer O'Brien (

The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Proskauer Rose LLP.

July 28, 2008 in Guest blogging by Proskauer Rose | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Sunday, July 27, 2008

2008 Holiday road....

I am about to make like Clark Griswold and head out on the road (and on the sea) for a few weeks.  I expect (should I say fear?) that I will not have an ability to be consistently on-line and bloggy during my sojourn.  Though I surely won't be able to stay away from the computer the whole time, I may just try to go cold-turkey on blogging in this space for my two weeks away.

Joyfully, I can report that a terrific group of lawyers from Proskauer Rose (with whom I worked pro bono on this amicus brief in the Sixth Circuit en banc case involving acquitted conduct) have agreed to keep this blog warm while I am away.  Proskauer partner Mark Harris had the good sense to urge me to take a blogging hiatus while on the road, and he sensibly suggested that a group of sentencing practitioners could provide a valuable perspective on the usual sentencing subjects and suspects while I am away. 

I believe the Proskauer team will start their guest blogging tomorrow, and I am already looking forward to seeing how they make use of this space.

July 27, 2008 in Guest blogging by Proskauer Rose | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack