You may have seen signs around that say “drug free zone,” but if drugs are already illegal, then why post a sign to say as much? Well, these signs aren’t just stating the obvious, in fact, they’re actually declaring that any drug crimes committed within the designated “zone” are subject to enhanced penalties. Here’s what you should know about drug free zones in California.
What is a Drug Free Zone?
Both state and federal laws state laws designate certain areas as drug free zones. When drug crimes are perpetrated within 1000 feet of these areas, they are subject to enhanced penalties. Drug free zones (often shortened to DFZs) include schools, colleges, public playgrounds, youth centers, daycare centers, churches, public swimming pools and synagogues -essentially any public space where children are likely to congregate. While these ares often post signs to warn potential offenders, they are not required to do so. It is also worth mentioning that enhancements are only applicable when the area is open or when children are present.
What Are the Penalty Enhancements?
It’s difficult to list specific penalty enhancements for carrying drugs in a DFZ because they vary so much based on the specific crime. In other words, just having drugs in a school zone will carry lower enhancements than selling heroin in a public playground. At minimum, the fines for the offense will be doubled and the offense may carry a minimum one year jail sentence. Anyone accused of these charges needs an experienced drug crime attorney to help fight these serious enhancements.
As an example of some specific penalty enhancements, while marijuana is otherwise legal to use recreationally in California, carrying it in a school zone or other DFZ is a misdemeanor punishable by up to $250 in fines and one year in jail.
The enhancements are particularly bad in cases where a minor was recruited to sell the drugs, if a minor was sold or given drugs, or if the drug in question was heroin, cocaine, PCP, or methamphetamine. Recruiting a minor to sell drugs in a drug free zone can carry a penalty of three times the usual fine and a minimum sentence of three years in prison.
Only adult offenders are subject to these enhanced penalties. Juveniles will face standard penalties for the particular offenses they have been accused of. That being said, adults and juveniles who are attending a school where they have been accused of committing a drug crime may face academic penalties such as expulsion or suspension.
Criticisms of Drug Free Zones
In recent years, many criminal justice advocates have become critical of these laws. They argue that evidence shows the laws do not actually reduce the number of children exposed to drugs. With efforts to reduce prison populations becoming more and more popular throughout the nation, these laws just serve to increase the number of people behind bars.
It’s also worth adding that in some cities with ample parks and schools, nearly every corner of the city is within 1000 feet of a school, playground, daycare center, church, etc. Because minorities are more likely to live in cities compared to whites, this also results in more minorities being incarcerated.
If you have been charged with committing a drug offense inside of drug free zone, please call Peter Liss as soon as possible. You can schedule a free consultation by calling (760) 643-4050.
Creative Commons Image by Byang Kyu Park