Drug-Free School Zone Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Many students at colleges and universities across Central Pennsylvania, like Penn State-University Park, Penn State-Altoona, Lock Haven, and Juniata, make the mistake of selling small amounts of marijuana to friends.
Later, a drug detective or criminal defense lawyer informs them that they and are facing a felony charge of drug delivery and a possible mandatory minimum sentence of two years in jail because the delivery occurred within a school zone. Regrettably, ignorance of the law is not a defense. The government is not required to provide any signage or warnings as to what areas constitute school zones.
What Is a “School” Under the Law?
The law, technically called the “drug-free school zone” and found at 18 Pa.C.S.A. 6317, imposes a two-year mandatory minimum sentence if a person delivers, possesses with the intent to deliver, or manufactures a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of the real property of a school, or 250 feet of the real property of a recreation center, playground, or on a school bus.
The definition of school includes not only elementary, middle, and high schools but also colleges and universities. A Pennsylvania Court recently stated that a day care facility is not a school, but other cases have held that pre-schools are schools for purposes of the drug-free school zone law. The courts consider whether education and instruction is the primary goal of the institution to determine if it is a school. It must also be noted that the focus is on the real property of those institutions, so the measurement of 1,000 feet is taken from the property line as opposed to the edge of school buildings.
It also does not matter whether the school is actually in session or not for the drug-free school zone mandatory minimum sentence to apply. The delivery or possession with intent to deliver can occur during a summer break in classes or at night when school is out, and the mandatory sentence still applies.
Playgrounds and Recreation Centers Also Trigger School Zone Mandatory Sentences
The law does not expressly define recreation center and playground, but cases have held that the facilities are not limited to school facilities. Instead, public playgrounds and even semi-private playgrounds at apartment complexes have supported the imposition of the drug-free school zone mandatory sentence.
While the purpose of the drug-free school zone is to promote the safety of children by keeping dangerous drug dealing away from areas in which children are frequently found, the statute applies regardless of time of day or season. It does not matter whether the school or playground is closed for the night or for the season; the drug-free school zone mandatory minimum sentence applies if the geographical distance requirements are met. In many urban areas, local churches have after-school programs and day care facilities with playgrounds that trigger the school zone mandatory sentences.
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