School Zone or Park Zone Drug Violations

If a defendant is convicted of trafficking, distribution, or possession with intent to distribute drugs within 300 feet of a school (within specified hours) or 100 feet of a park, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in jail added on to the sentence for the underlying drug crime. Judges have no discretion to dismiss school or park zone violations and cannot reduce the required jail sentence. This is an extremely dangerous law for defendants charged with drug violations.

Elements of a School Zone or Park Zone Violation

In order to convict a defendant of a school zone or park zone violation, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. The defendant trafficked, distributed, or possessed with the intent to distribute an illegal narcotic; and
  2. Such a crime occurred within 300 feet of the grounds of a public or private elementary, vocational, or secondary school and occurred between 5:00 a.m. and midnight, or the crime occurred within 100 feet of a public park or playground.

The Commonwealth needs to call witnesses to establish (1) the existence of a school, park, or playground, and (2) the distance between the underlying drug crime and the school, park, or playground.

Existence of a School, Park, or Playground - The existence of a school can be established by any witness who can testify that the school was operational at the time of the underlying drug crime. The witness will testify that the school contained books and desks, and was attended daily by students and teachers. The Commonwealth does not have to prove that the school was open on the date of the defendant’s arrest – a school zone can be proven even during the summer or on the weekend when school is not in session. The existence of a park ordinarily will be proven by a police officer who will testify that he or she is familiar with the town plans and can identify the perimeter of the park or playground.

Distance - The Commonwealth bears the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the underlying drug crime was committed within 100 feet of a park or within 300 feet of a school. The Commonwealth ordinarily proves this element in one of two ways.

  • Engineer’s Map - The Commonwealth sometimes calls the city’s engineer to testify about the location of the park or school. The engineer will bring certified city maps to illustrate the school or park location and the arresting police officer will point out the location of the underlying drug crime. The engineer will then use a scale to determine the distance between the alleged drug crime and the school or park.
  • Measuring Wheel - Some police departments use a measuring wheel. A police officer will take the measuring wheel and actually push it between the school or park boundary and the location of the alleged drug crime. These measurements can be attacked as unscientific and inexact. Additionally, the wheel is sometimes not properly calibrated, which provides another avenue of defense.

Because a conviction for a school zone or park zone violation results in serious consequences, including a mandatory minimum jail sentence, you need to be represented by an attorney with extensive experience in litigating such cases. As an assistant district attorney earlier in his career, Attorney Spring prosecuted hundreds of drug cases, from straight possession charges to trafficking, with school and park zone violations usually charged along with the underlying offenses. Since forming Spring & Spring, he has successfully defended hundreds of people charged with drug crimes, including allegations of school zone or park zone violations.

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