The Governor signed into law this week law that relaxes the draconian school zone mandatory prison drug law that has been in place since 1987. Under the new law, judges will be given more discretion in sentencing those caught dealing in drug free school zones.
The judge will take into consideration certain factors, including the proximity of the offense to the school zone, the time of day and whether school was in session. Based upon that determination, the judge will be able to depart from the mandatory jail sentence, and in some cases, depending on the weight of the drugs, sentence the defendant to straight probation.
Those who are currently serving custodial sentences for mandatory school zone offenses will be able to appeal their sentence.
It should be noted that school zone offenses accompanied by crimes of violence or gun possession will not fall within the purview of the new law. Additionally, there are other factors that will certainly weigh heavily into the equation, including prior record, prior drug distribution, and whether other sentencing guidelines would preclude the defendant from consideration.
With every drug distribution offense, there may be “Brimage” concerns that may enhance the penalties/jail time/mandatory period of parole ineligibility. However, under many circumstances, this new law will make it possible for the defendant to avoid a custodial sentence. Prior to the implementation of this new legislation, a non-custodial sentence for a school zone conviction was possible, but hard to come by, given the mechanical factors that were strictly applied.