Delivery of Drugs in a School Zone
Generally, there is a distinction in the law between a charge and a sentencing enhancement. In the recent past, only charges had to proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Sentencing enhancement, like the drug-free school zone, only had to be proven to a judge by a preponderance of the evidence at the time of sentencing. The Supreme Court of the United States issued a precedential opinion that has changed how such cases must be handled. The court's opinion now requires the prosecution to present evidence of factors that increase the mandatory minimum sentence to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. It is unclear whether or not the prosecution will be required to present evidence of prior offenses to a jury. However, evidence that the felony drug charge occurred within a "school zone" or involved a larger quantity of drugs to invoke the "drug trafficking" mandatory minimum sentences must be presented to a jury and proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Judge Has No Discretion to Avoid Mandatory Sentences
Many people mistakenly believe that a judge always has the authority or power to impose whatever sentence the judge deems appropriate. Regrettably, the "mandatory" language in the law applies to judges, meaning the judges are required by law to impose the mandatory minimum sentence. The judge may personally disagree with the law and want to impose a lesser sentence, but the judge is simply not permitted by law to do so. If a judge did ignore the law and impose a lesser sentence, the district attorney would appeal the sentence to a higher jurisdiction court, and the appellate court would reverse the sentence and require the judge to impose at least the minimum sentence.