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Former President Reagan’s War on Drugs started with drug-free zone initiatives. Now, all 50 states and Washington, D.C. have laws that increase penalties for drug charges that occur within a certain distance of schools and public parks.

If you’re facing drug charges for an offense in a drug-free zone, know that having legal representation is vital. If you’re found guilty, the increased penalties for these charges can ruin your life.

Your first step is to find an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can help you fight against these potentially life-changing charges.

In the meantime, we’ve put together a breakdown of South Carolina’s drug-free zone laws and the penalties for each type of infraction.

Drug-free Zone Basics:

What are the drug-free zone laws?

The goal of designated drug-free zone laws was to protect children from drug activity. As a result, drug offenses near schools and parks have harsher penalties than the same drug charges that occur outside of the so-called drug-free zones.

Problems with drug-free zone laws

The lawmakers who enacted drug-free zone laws had good intentions. The goal was to protect children and provide them with safe spaces to learn and play.

Unfortunately, the drug-free zone laws aren’t perfect. The main criticisms of these laws are:

  1. Offenders may face two different penalties for the same crime: the drug charge and a separate charge for being in a drug-free zone.
  2. Enhanced penalties can result even when the offense occurred far from a school, outside of school hours, and didn’t involve children.
  3. Drug-free zones don’t affect people of color and people who are economically disadvantaged in the same way since there are more drug-free zones in crowded urban areas.

South Carolina legislators recognized these problems and reworked the state’s drug-free zone laws in an attempt to address the issues. One change to the law states that an offender must know that he or she was in a drug-free zone at the time of the offense.

Another change clarifies that the drug offense has to take place in a drug-free zone. So if a police officer stops you in a drug-free zone, but you committed the offense outside the zone, you will not face special charges.

Proving that your situation fits into one of these exceptions is difficult. Having a qualified criminal defense attorney represent you can make a difference in your case.

SC “Proximity” Offenses

“Proximity” offenses are another way to describe drug offenses that take place in drug-free zones—because of the offender’s proximity to a school or park.

Special charge for proximity to schools and parks

A proximity charge is a separate criminal charge given in addition to a drug charge, making penalties for violating drug-free zone laws harsher than the penalties for drug charges alone.

What is considered a criminal act in a drug-free zone?

Drug-free zone laws and proximity charges apply to specific drug offenses that occur within a half-mile radius of a school or park. Commit any of the following acts in a drug-free zone, and you’re looking at additional charges and penalties:

  • Distribute
  • Manufacture
  • Possess with intent to distribute (PWID)
  • Purchase
  • Sell

However, there are a couple of requirements that must apply to your case to trigger drug-free zone laws:

  1. The knowledge that you’re in a drug-free zone.
  2. A criminal act involving illegal substances.

If a cop stops you in a drug-free zone but you didn’t commit one of the acts above while inside the zone, then you cannot be convicted of a proximity offense.

Penalties for proximity offenses

The penalties for proximity offenses might not seem that bad on their own, but remember that these punishments are in addition to the sentence you’ll face for the separate drug charge, whether the drug in question was merely marijuana, or something harder.

Purchase near a school or park

Charge Fine Jail Time Combo
Misdemeanor Up to $1,000 Up to 1 year Both a fine and jail time are possible

PWID and trafficking near a school or park

Charge Fine Jail Time Combo
Felony Up to $10,000 Up to 10 years Both a fine and jail time are possible

The State considers PWID and trafficking drugs “serious” offenses, which means sentencing is harsher than for lesser charges.

Double charges? You’ll need an attorney.

If you’re facing proximity charges, chances are that you’re facing drug charges, too. You need a criminal defense attorney who has experience fighting these types of charges—someone who will fight for your rights.

The experienced legal team at Kent Collins Law is here for you. We can answer your questions and work with you to build a solid defense strategy for your case.

Call 803-808-0905 to schedule a free consultation or fill out our contact form.

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