New Jersey to Repeal Mandatory Prison Sentences in “School Zone” Cases

Since 1987, New Jersey has required a mandatory prison term of 3 years (1 year for marijuana under one ounce) without parole for people convicted of distributing or possessing with intent to distribute drugs within 1000 feet of a school. Under the present law it doesn’t matter whether you know you are within 1000 feet of a school; whether school is open; whether the police chase you into a “School Zone”; or EVEN whether the crime was committed in your own home that happens to be in a “School Zone.”

On December 10, 2009, the Senate passed a bill that would allow judges to reduce these prison sentences or even impose PROBATION depending on the circumstances of the case. Judges will now be able to take into consideration whether children were present; whether school was in session and the proximity to the school when determining an appropriate sentence. Finally, the Legislature has agreed that all “School Zone” cases are not the same and shouldn’t be treated as such.

The present bill will allow lawyers to argue various factors to make sure that their clients receive an appropriate sentence that could include drug treatment or probationary supervision to rehabilitate them, rather than just filling the prisons with non-violent offenders. This modification of the law is another step away from the one-size-fits-all type of sentencing that has tied the hands of judges and lawyers across the State for over two decades.

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