Eighth Amendment Challenge to Drug Free Zones

Supreme Court of Tennessee Blog posts:

A groundbreaking constitutional challenge has been filed regarding Tennessee’s “Drug Free School Zone Act,” a flawed but well-intentioned law that has recently come under fire by several conservative groups because it “ensnare[s] many individuals who fall outside of the scope and purpose of the law” and has resulted in significant collateral consequences that have been “passed on to taxpayers without any public safety returns.” The law has long been a target of criminal justice reformers, who have argued that the severe, mandatory minimum penalties contemplated by Tennessee’s School Zone law fail to make appropriate distinctions between people who sell drugs to children and people who don’t.

Alabama has a similar statutes which may be subject to similar constitutional attack because it suffers the exact same defects.

In addition to any penalties heretofore or hereafter provided by law for any person convicted of an unlawful sale of a controlled substance, there is hereby imposed a penalty of five years incarceration in a state corrections facility with no provision for probation if the situs of such unlawful sale was on the campus or within a three-mile radius of the campus boundaries of any public or private school, college, university or other educational institution in this state.

The Alabama statute imposes a mandatory (not eligible for probation) if the sale occurred within 3 miles of a public school regardless whether a child was involved in the sale. (There is a similar statute for sales on or near public housing.) In fact:

Alabama has the widest drug-free zones in the country, extending three miles from schools, colleges, and housing complexes. Drug offenses inside those areas carry a five-year enhanced sentence. In practice, this means that 38,267 square miles of Alabama—73 percent of the state—are within a -drug-free zone. Cities with a higher concentration of schools and public housing projects are worse. Ninety-four percent of Montgomery falls within a drug-free zone.

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