MICHIGAN APPELLATE COURT LIMITS THE APPLICATION OF DRUG-FREE SCHOOL ZONE PENALTIES
Recently, Michigan’s Court of Appeals restricted a law that punishes defendants who possess drugs within 1000 feet of a school zone. The court held that the prosecution must not only prove that the defendant possessed drugs, but also that the defendant intended to sell drugs within 1000 feet of a school.
Two Drug Raids, One Case
The case began with two entirely separate drug raids, and the defendants had no relation to each other. In the first case, the defendant, Lymance English, was arrested by the police when they discovered cocaine and marijuana during a raid of his home. Meanwhile, a drug raid on the car of Brandon Smith revealed that it contained over two grams of heroin. What both of these cases had in common was that the drugs were within 1000 feet of a school. Therefore, both men were charged with possession with the intent to deliver drugs within a school zone. This charge carries with it enhanced penalties, including a minimum prison term of two years.
In each trial, the defendants contended that the prosecution was required to prove that they intended to deliver the drugs within the school zone. The trial courts agreed and dismissed the counts with enhanced penalties. The two cases were consolidated on appeal.
A Grammar Battle
The appellate case hinged upon the grammatical interpretation of Michigan Statute § 333.7410(3). The statute states that a person breaks the law by “possessing with intent to deliver to another person on or within 1000 feet of school property or a library a controlled substance . . .” Both the prosecution and defendant English argued that the statute was ambiguous. Of course, the two sides argued that the opposite interpretation should be given to the ambiguity: the prosecution’s stance was that the statute does not require the intent to sell, while English argued that it did.
Ironically, it was not English who won the grammar argument. Rather, the court adopted defendant Smith’s view that the law was not ambiguous. The Court found that the plain meaning of the statute requires that it be proven that the defendant intended to deliver a controlled substance within 1000 feet of a school zone.
Significance of the Ruling
What is the significance of this case? Why is it important to prove that a drug dealer intended to deliver drugs near a school? Isn’t possession of the drugs enough? A comparison of the following scenarios can answer these questions:
- A drug dealer places marijuana in his trunk with the intent to deliver it to a house many miles away from any schools. On his way to deliver the marijuana, he is pulled over by the police in front of a school and they discover the drugs.
- A drug dealer who lives several blocks from a school loads a backpack up with heroin and begins walking toward a school where he intends to sell the drugs to the school children. He is apprehended by the police slightly more than 1000 feet away from the school.
If the prosecution did not have to prove that a defendant intended to distribute the narcotics, then the following would result:
- In the first scenario, the defendant would receive an enhanced sentence even though he had no intent to sell drugs near the school.
- In the second case, the defendant would not face the enhanced sentence even though he fully intended to sell drugs to students on school property.
If you or someone you know has been charged with possession of a controlled substance, or for further information concerning the changes in Michigan’s drug laws, contact the highly experienced and reputable criminal defense lawyer in Van Buren County at Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC 269.982.1100 or visit www.AttorneyPeterJohnson.com