SCHOOL ZONE DRUG VIOLATION

SCHOOL ZONE DRUG VIOLATION

School zones charges have changed recently so they are less stringent. When the law was first developed, it had good intentions and made sense. The logic was if a person was dealing drugs in a "school zone" then they should face a mandatory jail term. In the past it was a flat two years in jail. No good time could accrue and that person has to spend a full two years behind bars. Again, the logic was there, since we don't want drugs sold to kids and we want schools to be drug free zones. However, it could ( and had) applied to stellar student who simply gave (not sold) gave a joint to a friend. So the distribution, didn't have to be harsh drugs, it didn't have to be sold for money, it didn't have to come from a known dealer. In fact, in the past the rule was 1000 feet from the school. Sometimes, people would get arrested for school zones violations and they didn't even know the school was there or it was through a wooded area or across a highway. And the transaction had nothing to do with school or students. Then you also had situations where, the transaction occurred, during the weekend or when school wasn't in session. It didn't matter, and people went to jail for mandatory sentences. Now the law has been adjusted so that it is a bit more targeted to the actual drug dealer who may have an impact in the student population or should have known. So, a bit more targeted to actual drug dealers. So, recently questions with the school zones amendments include the following:

 This blog post will answer the following questions on the criminal offense of a school zone drug violation:

  • What does it mean to be charged with a school zone drug violation?
  • Is it necessary that the Commonwealth prove that the defendant knew that he or she was within 300 feet of the real property of a school, preschool, or Headstart facility?
  • Does a school zone violation carry a mandatory minimum sentence upon conviction?
  • Is it unconstitutional that a lack of knowledge by the defendant that the defendant’s alleged drug dealing was within 1000 feet (300 feet as of August 2, 2012) of a school is not a defense to the crime of a school zone drug violation?
  • How are the boundaries of a school or public park or playground measured?
  • How does the “surrounding land” of a school factor into determining school boundaries?
  • Do public preschools and public Headstart facilities need to be accredited to fall under the school zone drug violation statute?
  • Is a school consisting only of a kindergarten legally considered to be an “elementary school”?
  • What are some other legal nuances to the crime of a school zone drug violation?

What does it mean to be charged with a school zone drug violation?

If a defendant is found guilty of the charge of (ANY):

…the jury will go on to consider whether the Commonwealth has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that (BOTH):

  • The offense was committed WITHIN 300 feet of the real property comprising (ANY):
    • A public preschool
    • A Headstart facility
    • AN Elementary school
    • A Vocational school
    • A secondary school
    • A private accredited preschool
    • A private accredited Headstart facility
    • A private elementary school
    • A private vocational school
    • A private secondary school
  • The offense was committed between five o’clock in the morning and twelve o’clock midnight

Note that it does not matter whether or not the school, preschool, or Headstart facility was in session, but the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the offense occurred between five o’clock in the morning and twelve o’clock midnight.

Is it necessary that the Commonwealth prove that the defendant knew that he or she was within 300 feet of the real property of a school, preschool, or Headstart facility?

NO, it is NOT necessary for the Commonwealth to prove that the defendant knew thathe or she was within 300 feet of the real property of a school, preschool, or Headstart facility.

Note that since August 2, 2012, the size of the school zonearea has been officially reduced from 1,000 feet to 300 feet. The scope of the statute has also been limited to offenses that occur between the hours of 5:00 AM and midnight.

 

Does a school zone violation carry a mandatory minimum sentence upon conviction?

 

YES, there is in fact a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for violations of the school zone drug violation statute committed within 1000 feet (300 feet as of August 2, 2012) of a school. 

 

Is it unconstitutional that a lack of knowledge by the defendant that the defendant’s alleged drug dealing was within 1000 feet (300 feet as of August 2, 2012) of a school is not a defense to the crime of a school zone drug violation?

 

NO, the statute on park zone drug violations does NOT violate the defendant’s constitutional right to due process in providing that a lack of knowledge of the defendant’s drug dealing was within 1000 feet (300 feet as of August 2, 2012) of a school. Lack of knowledge also does NOT violate double jeopardy principlesby requiring a separate mandatory sentence for the underlying drug offense upon conviction.

 

How are the boundaries of a school or public park or playground measured?

 

The statute on park zone drug violations does NOT specify any particular method for establishing the boundaries of a school or public park or playground.

 

In the case of a school, the courts have ruled that under normal circumstances, the measurement should be a straight line from the school’s boundary line to the site of the illegal drug activity. The Commonwealth does not need to establish the exact point of a school boundary if measurement is taken from a point that is reasonably inferable to be located on property used for school purposes.

 

In accordance with dictionary definitions of the word “site”, the front door of an apartment building should suffice as the starting point of measurement on the school property.

 

Just as a principle of a school or an arresting officer can testify as to the type of school specified in the school zone statute based on his or her personal knowledge, a principal of a school or a police officer can testify as to the boundaries of the school from his or her personal knowledge. 

 

Note that the “site” of illegal drug activity in a building is considered to be the building itself rather than any particular room.

 

How does the “surrounding land” of a school factor into determining school boundaries?

 

The “real property”comprising a school can include undeveloped and unused land that is within the boundaries of the school’s property and contiguous to the school’s developed real estate.

 

A boundary line circumscribes a public elementary school building together with adjacent school land areas that are contiguous, and not separated by intervening land under different jurisdiction. The statute is violated when the defendant’s activity occurs within 1000 feet (300 feet as of August 2, 2012) of such a boundary line. The statute does not require that the property in question be owned by the school department or used for school purposes.

 

Do public preschools and public Headstart facilities need to be accredited to fall under the school zone drug violation statute?

 

Public preschools and public Headstart facilitiesdo NOT need to be accredited to fall within the school zone drug violation statute.

 

Note that private preschools and Headstart facilities fall within the school zone drug violation statute ONLY if they are accredited.

 

Is a school consisting only of a kindergarten legally considered to be an “elementary school”?

 

A school consisting only of a kindergarten is NOT an “elementary school” for purposes of the school zone drug violation statute since the dictionary definition of an elementary school is a school for the first six or eight grades.

What are some other legal nuances to the crime of a school zone drug violation?

The following is a list of additional legal nuances to the crime of a school zone drug violation (ALL):

  • A “secondary school” does not require Department of Education accreditation.
  • The defendant does not need to intend to distribute drugs within the school zone. It is sufficient for the defendant to have possessed drugs within a school zone with intent to distribute them anywhere.
  • According to Commonwealth v. Taylor (1992) a park zone drug violation can indeed be charged separately from the underlying drug offense, although under normal circumstances it will be tried together with the underlying charge.
  • The Commonwealth has the burden of proving that the school in question is of a type enumerated in the statute

IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH A SCHOOL ZONE DRUG VIOLATION, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.

CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.

Source: Instruction 7.860

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