It matters where you get arrested for alleged drug crimes. If a drug crime is committed in certain locations, such as school zones, there are enhanced penalties in addition to the penalties imposed for the underlying drug crime.
Distributing drugs near schools or playgrounds
Massachusetts law, with the intention of keeping people from providing drugs to children, has enacted strict laws regarding distributing drugs in school zones as well as near parks and playgrounds.
In Massachusetts, there are enhanced penalties if you distribute drugs in, on or within 300 feet of a school between the hours of 5:00 a.m. and midnight or within 100 feet of a public park or playground. For the purposes of this law, schools include:
- Public or private accredited preschools
- Public headstart or private accredited headstart facilities
- Public or private elementary and secondary schools
- Public or private vocational schools
The enhanced penalties will apply even if school is not in session when the alleged offense occurs.
In addition to the penalties for the underlying drug offense, there is an additional mandatory sentence for distribution of drugs in a school zone that is tacked on to the sentence for the underlying offense. The mandatory minimum sentence for violating this code is a minimum two-year prison sentence and a fine of $1,000 to $10,000.
The mandatory sentence for violating this code begins once the sentence for the original violation ends. Courts in Massachusetts have ruled that this does not violate double jeopardy principles, as it does not constitute being prosecuted twice for the same offense.
I did not know I was near a school or playground. What now?
It does not matter whether you knew you were within 300 feet of a school or 100 feet of a park or playground. It is enough that you possessed drugs in a school zone and intended to distribute them there or anywhere.
Courts in Massachusetts have ruled that this lack of knowledge does not violate your Sixth Amendment due process rights, as it does not run afoul of fundamental fairness principles.
Who measures the 300 feet?
The arresting officer or school principal only needs to testify that per their personal knowledge, you were within 300 feet of the school or 100 feet of a public park or playground, as long as this inference is reasonable. Exact measurements are not set—a straight line from the school zone to the site of the alleged distribution is sufficient.
As this shows, when it comes to drug charges in Massachusetts, location matters. Distributing drugs in a school zone significantly alters the penalties you could face upon conviction.