School Zone Mandatory Minimum.
In Massachusetts, otherwise relatively simple drug charges are dramatically escalated when they occur within 300 feet of a school or park (this distance was reduced from 1000 feet to 300 feet in 2012). When someone is charged with a drug offense in a “school zone,” the penalty for the school zone violation includes a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in jail, which must be imposed “from-and-after” the punishment for the underlying drug offense. This means the mandatory minimum does not even begin to run until the punishment for the underlying offense is done.
For example, if you are sentenced to sixty days for possession and the two year mandatory minimum because you were arrested in a school zone, then you must serve the sixty days in jail, then begin the two year sentence on day 61.
Defending a School Zone Charge.
First, before the Commonwealth can prove a violation of the school zone law, it must prove the underlying drug charge.
Second, the Commonwealth must prove that the violation occurred within 300 feet of a school, park, daycare center, or other similar location described in the statute.
Beyond the defense of the underlying charge, there are viable defenses to the allegation that the offense occurred in a school zone. The police and district attorneys are not often required to prove that a given property is a “school” or “park” as defined in the statute. Nor are they often required to prove the distance from one point to another, which is required to prove a school zone violation. Sometimes, the police bring the charge of a school zone violation based on an approximations made beforehand which may have never been tested, but if the Commonwealth wants to impose a mandatory minimum because of a school zone violation, even the measurements made by police must be called into question.