A person who faces drug charges stands to face harsher penalties upon a conviction if he or she was within a drug-free zone at the time of the offense. When drug-free laws were promoted in 1970, the premise was to keep children safe from drug dealers and users. Back then, legislators began to designate specific areas as “drug free zones,” such as schools and parks. These boundaries quickly expanded to include any areas where drug use was rampant. There are so many drug-free zones today that they no longer serve the original purpose: protecting children from dangerous drug activity.
Drug-Free Zones Present Disparities in Sentencing
Of the unintended consequences of drug-free zones, perhaps one of the worst is the fact that two defendants facing the same charges can face wildly different outcomes if one of them is caught within a drug-free zone. The laws that establish gun-free zones tend to be overly-broad. They vary on a state-by-state basis. In Florida, anyone caught committing a drug offense inside or within 1,000 feet of a drug-free zone faces enhanced penalties that are much steeper than the penalties they would have faced outside of these zones.
Drug-Free Zones Cluster in Low-Income Areas
Florida legislators adopted drug-free zones in 1987. At the time, drug-free zoning laws only designated schools as drug-free areas. Since then, drug-free zones have become highly concentrated within populous cities. Today, being caught within 1,000 feet of any of the following locations can mean the difference between regular and enhanced penalties upon a conviction:
- Schools, including universities
- Daycare centers
- Houses of worship
- Public housing complexes
- Community centers
- Assisted living facilities
What Drug Offenses Trigger Drug-Free Zone Sentencing?
Not all drug offenses lead to enhanced penalties within a drug-free zone; however, prosecutors may elevate a simple possession charge to one of possession with intent in the hopes of issuing harsher penalties upon a conviction. Offenses that trigger enhanced penalties include:
- Possession with the intent to sell or distribute controlled substances
- Sale of controlled substances
- Manufacture of controlled substances
- Distribution of controlled substances
In Florida, a person will face a mandatory minimum sentence of 3 years for committing any of the above offenses in or within 1,000 feet from a drug-free zone.
Drug-free zone laws have contributed to the overcrowding of prisons because they impose lengthy sentences for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. These laws have also unfairly targeted minority communities where there are almost no spaces that are not drug-free zones.
If you have been accused of a drug crime in a drug-free zone in West Palm Beach, talk to attorney Brian Gabriel of The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel. He will work with you to understand the charges against you and explore your legal options for defense. Call 561-622-5575 to get started.