School Zone Drug Charges and Mandatory Jail

Recent Changes to the Drug Free School Zone law dramatically improve the outlook for defendants facing distribution of drugs within 1000 ft of a school zone in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7(a).

The amendment is about a year old, but many are still unaware. Prior to the amendment, a defendant convicted of a school zone drug crime would (under most circumstance) be looking at a minimum of three years, and the defendant would do all of the time, with no parole.

The change in law does not completely do away with the parole ineligibility provision of the school zone statute. However, it does give the Judge the ability to deviate from the mandatory prison requirement and even grant probation. The factors the Judge will consider are:

1. the extent of the defendant’s prior criminal record and the seriousness of the offenses for which the defendant has been convicted;
2.the specific location of the present offense in relation to the school property, including distance from the school and the reasonable likelihood of exposing children to drug-related activities at that location;
3. whether school was in session at the time of the offense; and
4.whether children were present at or in the immediate vicinity of the location when the offense took place.

This case isn’t just important for those charged and presently fighting school zone charges. It also may help those who are serving prison time currently because of a school zone conviction. It may be possible to re-open the case and have the defendant re-sentenced in accordance with these changes.

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