Understanding Drug-Free Zone Laws and their Consequences

When the “War on Drugs” first began decades ago, drug-free zones were established and enhancement laws created which increased the penalties for certain drug offenses committed near schools.  Today, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted some version of drug-free school zone law.

The purpose of drug-free zone laws

Recognizing the danger that drug trafficking near schools poses to children, drug-free zone laws were established to protect children from drug activity.  The zones often extend to public parks as well.  Under these laws, anyone caught using or selling drugs within the designated protected zones faced significantly stiffer penalties than others who engaged in the same conduct outside these zones.

Different states have different laws

Drug-free school zone laws vary by jurisdiction when it comes to factors such as zone size, locations, offenses, and penalties imposed.  Some states also have restrictions on when and under what circumstances the enhanced penalties apply. In 30 states, the law defines drug offenses within the protected zone as distinct crimes with their own penalties or penalty ranges. In other states, the law imposes enhanced penalties for underlying crimes when they occur within the protected zone. This is true regardless of how far from the actual school the crime may have occurred, the fact that school children were not actually involved, or the fact that the offense did not occur during school hours.

In Alabama, if you are convicted of selling drugs within three miles of a school or university, five years will automatically be added to your sentence.  If the crime occurred within three miles of public housing, another 5 years will be added as well.

If you have questions regarding drug-free zone laws, or any other criminal defense matters, please contact Ketcham Law for a consultation by calling us at (205) 296-4233.

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