Drug Violation Near a School Zone

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 94C, also known as the Controlled Substances Act, governs drug crimes in our state. If a defendant is charged with a drug violation, he may be charged with a drug violation near a school zone. The Massachusetts Legislature has recently changed the distance within which an individual must be in order to be charge and/or convicted of this violation. Previously, a person could be charged with this type of crime if he or she was believed to be in possession of an illegal controlled substance with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a “school.” Now, the Commonwealth must prove that the defendant possessed the alleged controlled contraband with intent to distribute within three hundred feet of a school. To convict a defendant of a drug violation near a school zone, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant:

  1. Is guilty of the underlying crime ( i.e. distribution, possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, etc.).
  2. The underlying crime was committed within: (a.) 300 feet of elementary, vocational or secondary school grounds, whether or not that school is in session and whether or not the school is public or private; or (b.) within 100 feet of a public playground or park. To satisfy this element, it is not necessary that the defendant intended to distribute drugs within that school zone. It is enough that the defendant possessed drugs within that distance and intended to distribute them anywhere. A prosecutor is not required to prove a defendant's knowledge that he was within that distance from a school, playground or park. Even an alternative school in a boys' and girls' club with only two rooms is a "school" under this law. The distance from the school is to be measured in a straight line from the school's boundary to the site of the alleged drug activity. It is not the distance it would take by using the street or any other kind of pathway. A school principal or police officer may testify as to that school boundary line.
  3. Relative to the school zone violation, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the offense occurred between five o’clock in the morning and twelve o’clock midnight.

The purpose of this law is to create drug-free school zones. Since keeping school children safe from drugs is a highly important objective, the punishments for a conviction can be serious. The school zone statute carries a mandatory minimum two-year jail sentence. The state prison sentence can reach up to fifteen years. A fine of up to $10,000 can be imposed in addition to the prison sentence.

Defenses To Possession Of A Controlled Substance In A School Zone

General Laws c. 94C, § 32J does not specifically indicate the method that must be employed to determine the distance. However, the measurement can take place from the site of the alleged illegal activity and does not necessarily have to be taken to the specific room of the alleged crime.

Thus, depending on the circumstances a viable defense to this charge could be that the measurement is not accurate.

Filing Motions To Dismiss

Because the distance from the alleged transaction to the school zone has recently been decreased, many of the complaints are issued with the wrong information. Thus, many defendants are charged with a school zone violation within 1,000 feet of a school zone instead of within 300 feet of a school zone. Furthermore, often a clerk is presented with a police report that merely mentions a school and does not include information establishing the footage within which the alleged illegal transaction took place within a “school zone.” An experienced Massachusetts drug lawyer would carefully review the report that was presented to the clerk-magistrate who issued the complaint to ensure that the Commonwealth presented probable cause for the complaint to issue on this element. If the police report does NOT contain the necessary information, a motion to dismiss for lack of probable cause to issue the complaint must be filed. If allowed, the defendant no longer faces a mandatory minimum sentence.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a drug violation near a school zone, you will need an excellent criminal defense attorney like the attorney. The attorney is committed to providing each of her clients with the best defense possible. If you face this charge, you should immediately contact The Criminal Lawyer. The sooner she starts building your defense, the better off you will be.