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Massachusetts School Zone Drug Law applies retroactively SJC rules in Commonwealth v. Bradley

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled yesterday that the School Zone statute amendment applies to pending cases. Last year the legislature reduced the scope of the school zone statute by requiring the drug distribution crime to be within 300 feet of a school zone rather than a thousand feet from the school. The issue that arise for Brockton Criminal Defense Lawyers was whether this new law applied to pending cases brought before the change in the law. The SJC answered that it did in the case of Commonwealth v. Bradley.

In Massachusetts, a defendant charged with a drug possession crime could face severe violations if he or she was arrested within a “school zone,” as defined by G.L. c. 94C ยง 32J. Until last year, an individual charged with possession of a controlled substance within 1000 feet of a school could face at least two and a half years imprisonment under this “school zone” law. After an amendment was passed reducing the parameters of a school zone,

In the matter of Commonwealth v. Bradley, the defendant Bradley’s dorm room was searched by police officers pursuant to a warrant on November 8, 2010. During the search, police officers discovered marijuana, and Bradley was charged with possession with intent to distribute. However, because Bradley’s dorm was about 700 feet from a nearby preschool facility, Bradley was also charged with the school zone violation. The criminal complaints were filed on December 30, 2010, but Bradley’s case was not adjudicated as of August 2, 2012.

On August 2, 2012, the governor signed an amendment into law reducing the radius of the school zone from 1000 feet to 300 feet. Therefore, under the amendment, a possession crime must be committed within certain hours of the day and within 300 feet of a school in order to trigger the school zone violation charge under the amended section 32J.

The judge in Bradley’s case asked the Supreme Judicial Court whether, as in the case of Bradley, the lower courts should dismiss a school zone violation charge if the offense was committed before the amendment was passed, but if the case was not adjudicated as of the amendment’s effective date. The SJC replied that defendants charged with a school zone violation for a crime committed beyond 300 feet and before the amendment took effect, but who had not plead guilty or were not convicted as of the date of the amendment, should still benefit from the amendment.

The SJC explained that the legislature intended to ease the uneven burden of the school zone statute when it passed the amendment. Under the old statute, all those within 1000 feet of a school were subject to the additional charge – including local residents near urban schools. It was unfair to subject those residents to more criminal penalties than those living in the suburbs or rural areas of the state.

By reducing the radius of a school zone to 300 feet, the legislature limited the number of residents who were unfairly burdened by this charge. And since the purpose of the amendment is to eliminate the unfairness of the original statute, there is no reason not to apply it retroactively to benefit more defendants. Brockton criminal defense attorneys should consider this decision a significant victory since substantially fewer defendants will now face the harsh penalties of the school zone statutes.

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