Civil Liberties

Tennessee May Finally Reform Draconian Drug-Free School Zone Laws

Too often, minor drug crimes turn into mandatory minimum offenses with lengthy sentences despite the fact these types of cases rarely involve drug dealing to minors.

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Tennessee lawmakers are finally revisiting the state's punitive drug-free school zone laws, which blanket whole swaths of towns, turning minor drug crimes into mandatory minimum offenses with sentences that rival those for rape and murder.

The Tennessee House is advancing a bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Michael Curcio, that would reduce the zones from 1,000 feet from any school, park, library, or day care center to 500 feet. Importantly, it would also remove the mandatory minimum sentences, giving judges more discretion.

"The unintended consequence of such a large zone is that the law affects more individuals than the General Assembly meant to target," Curcio said at a March hearing.

In defense of the changes, Curcio cited data from a Reason investigation published two years ago showing that more than a quarter of land area within city limits in the state is covered by drug-free zones. Such zones cover 38 percent of Memphis, for example, and 58 percent of East Knoxville.

All 50 states created drug-free zones in the '80s and '90s, but civil liberties groups—and even some current and former prosecutors—say the laws are rarely, if ever, used in actual cases involving drug dealing to minors. Tennessee's laws apply even when school is out and even when the defendant is in a private residence or merely driving through a zone.

Take the case of Calvin Bryant, who was sentenced at age 20 to 17 years in prison—15 of them mandatory—for selling ecstasy to a confidential informant in his Nashville apartment, which happened to be within 1,000 feet of a school. He could theoretically have served less time if he'd been convicted of second-degree murder, which carries a minimum 15-year sentence but includes a possibility for parole after 13 years.

After serving 10 and a half years, Bryant was released in 2018 through a deal struck with prosecutors. He now mentors inner-city youth. "I hold myself accountable for participating in a drug transaction, but do I feel like I should have gotten 17 years?" he testified at a committee hearing on the bill. "I don't."

There are 358 Tennessee inmates serving sentences for drug-free school zone offenses, according to data obtained by the Justice Action Network, an advocacy group. That number doesn't include cases where prosecutors dropped school zone charges as part of a plea deal.

Bryant told lawmakers he hopes future bills will give relief to those still incarcerated. "It's kind of rough when you're sitting in prison and your injustice is being used for other people's justice that haven't really committed crimes yet."

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  1. I remember the 1000 ft gun free around schools in the 90’s.
    A friend I hunted with lived right across a small street from
    a grade school. We used to joke how we were breaking the law every time I picked him up to go hunting.

  2. Just another good reason to eliminate public schooling.

    1. ^This. Get rid of public schools. Problem solved.

    2. Enjoy your independent Southern Baptist madrasas, hick!

    3. What?! Where would we get mass shootings to use in attempts to repeal 2A?

      1. Same place as now; lies in the legacy media.

  3. “All 50 states created drug-free zones in the ’80s and ’90s, but civil liberties groups—and even some current and former prosecutors—say the laws are rarely, if ever, used in actual cases involving drug dealing to minors.”

    What? People creating laws that are not used? Why would they do that? Nobody would endorse onerous laws just to posture and score publicity points, would they?

    1. You’re going to want to sit down for this earth shattering revelation…..the vast majority of politics is performative theatrics. I know, it’s a lot to take in all at once.

      1. we are merely players, performers and portrayers.

    2. The laws are there to give prosecutors and cops an excuse to fuck people they don’t luck. It just happens to be that it is usually black people.

    3. Asset forfeiture. Look at the homes confiscated just before the 1987 and 2008 market crashes.

  4. Um, why are you limp-wristedly hoping some future bill will solve the problem? Why aren’t you addressing it in yours?

  5. >>>reduce the zones from 1,000 feet from any school, park, library, or day care center to 500 feet

    in your face, other Tennessee Legislature from the 80s or 90s!

  6. Too often, minor drug crimes turn into mandatory minimum offenses with lengthy sentences

    Thanks Joe Biden

    1. Joe will protect us from the superpredators who want to sell fentanyl to our children. He’s got my vote this November!

      1. Only if you actually get to vote this November – – – – – – – – – – –
        I suspect that to save the children, Nancy will just pass a 2,500 page bill explaining the necessity of just using models from democratic focus groups to predict the result, and anoint Biden.

    2. Joe Biden, with help from Ronnie & Nancy Raygun, George Holy War Bush, congressmen Crane, Kramer, English, Rangel, Lungren, Pepper, McCollum, Gekas, Smith, Daub, Chandler, Coleman, Bilirakis… in short, the Dems and God’s Own Prohibitionists.

  7. Is the theory of evolution still illegal in Tennessee?

    1. Of course. It has been conclusively proven to be a complete and total hoax.
      If that theory were correct, mothers would have more than two hands.

  8. Reducing the zones from 1000 ft. to 500 ft.? Progress? Sure, but some bad ideas refuse to go away completely.

  9. In all fairness, the question resolves down to this; how can something illegal done on the north side of a street receive double or triple the punishment of that same something illegal done on the south side of the street.?
    You know, equal protection and all that jazz.

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