What Is A Drug Free School Zone in NJ?
Possession and distribution of drugs are serious offenses with harsh penalties, but the charges lined up against you can be made even worse depending on where you were caught. Getting caught selling drugs in a designated “drug free school zone” will increase the severity of the charges, so it is important to know what exactly constitutes a school zone and what the penalties are.
The Drug Free School Zone statute, or N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7, applies to any of the following:
- Any school property that is used for school purposes, including school buildings, playgrounds, and housing facilities.
- Within any school bus.
- Within 1,000 feet of any school property or school bus.
Remember that this applies to distribution or intent to distribute, not simple possession. Selling or the intent to sell is what the prosecution will be looking to prove. They will usually have to present a map that shows where the alleged crime occurred and that it is, in fact, within what constitutes a school zone. Claiming ignorance is not likely to be a winning defense. However, since the property involved must “be used for school purposes,” if the area is not regularly or actually used for such purposes then you will likely have a much more solid defense against the accusations.
Penalties for Drug Free School Zone Violations
It is important to note that violating a drug free school zone is a separate offense, not an addition to a drug distribution charge. This means you will be facing down two charges, one for drug possession and distribution and another for distributing or intending to distribute within a drug free school zone. In most cases the penalties will be the following:
- Third Degree Distribution On or Within 1,000 Feet of School Property
- 3 to 5 years of prison time
- Mandatory minimum time frame of parole ineligibility of between one third and one half of the total sentence, or three years, whichever is greater.
- Fines of up to $150,000
Note that for cases involving less than 1 ounce of marijuana, the parole ineligibility will be between one third and one half of the total sentence or one year, whichever is greater.
Parole Ineligibility Determination in School Zone Cases
In determining the amount of time a defendant will not be eligible for parole and whether to reduce the minimum required term of ineligibility, the court will consider the following:
- Your prior criminal record and the seriousness of any previous offenses.
- The location the offense took place in relative to the school property.
- Whether school was in session at the time of the offense.
- Whether children were present or in the immediate vicinity when the offense occurred.
You will not be able to receive any reduction in the minimum term of parole ineligibility or be sentenced to probation if the following took place:
- The offense took place on any school property used for school purposes that is owned or leased by any elementary or secondary school or school board.
- The offense took place on any school bus.
- The defendant, in the course of committing the offense, used or threatened violence or was in possession of a firearm.
Are You Facing a Drug Free School Zone Offense?
If you or a loved one has been accused of selling drugs on or near school property, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney in your corner. We can help reduce or beat the charges, keeping you from having to serve a long sentence without parole. At Schneider Freiberger we have the expertise to find the holes in the prosecution’s arguments and protect your rights in court.