Proposal to Reform Tennessee’s Drug-Free School Zone Laws

A bill recently introduced by Republican state representative Michael Curcio in the Tennessee legislature is intended to reform the state’s current drug-free school zone laws. The bill would significantly reduce the sizes of these zones. Currently, the zones cover an area encompassing 1,000 foot within any school, daycare, library, or park. Curcio’s bill would cut that number in half to 500 feet. In addition, it would cancel all mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses occurring within these zones and allow judges the option to waive sentencing enhancements in certain cases.

How Tennessee’s current drug-free school zone laws work

Tennessee’s drug-free school zone laws cover large portions of cities, turning smaller drug violations into mandatory sentences that in some cases are greater than punishments meted out for murder and rape.

The problem, explained Curcio, is that although well-intentioned, the policy has not achieved the intended goal. According to Curcio, “”The main reason for this failure is that drug offenders are not often affected by deterrence-based policies.”

The Republican representative asserts that the drug-free zones are far too large, covering too much territory, in fact representing more than 25% of the state’s total land area within city limits, a statistic derived from a Reason magazine investigation. Some of the specific statistics for cities include drug-free zones covering 58% of East Knoxville and 38% of Memphis.

Another aspect of the updated feature of the current laws are that the drug-free zones apply even when school is not in session in addition to when the defendant happens to be driving through a zone or is in his or her private residence.

According to civil liberties groups and some prosecutors, the drug-free zone laws that were developed and propagated throughout the nation and the 1980s and 1990s are now rarely used in actual cases involving drug deals to minors.

Results of the current drug-free zone law

According to Curcio, the result of these large zones is the targeting of more individuals than the original intention behind the law.

As of this time, according to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, 358 inmates in Tennessee are serving sentences for offenses in drug-free school zones. This number of inmates does not pertain to cases in which prosecutors dropped the charges of the school zone violation in exchange for a guilty plea from the defendant. Prosecutors have considerable leverage to obtain plea deals from defendants by threatening a school zone drug charge.

Time will tell whether or not the Tennessee legislature follows the lead of representative Curcio in updating the state’s existing drug-free zone laws and adopts a new approach in dealing with this issue.

At the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates, our Franklin drug crime attorneys are here to support your legal rights with highly vigilant and intelligent representation if you have been accused of a drug crime. To arrange a consultation about your case, call us today at 615.977.9370 or complete our contact form. Our team represents injury victims in Franklin, Brentwood, Columbia, and other areas of Tennessee.