The Herald Bulletin

October 4, 2012

Panel likely to suggest shrinking drug-free zones

The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Members of a legislative study panel expressed concerns Thursday about an Indiana law that brings more prison time for drug dealing that occurs within 1,000 feet of schools and other places children gather, and they likely will recommend the General Assembly sharply reduce the distance and limit the number of areas affected.

Rep. Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville and chairman of the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission, said it will consider proposed legislation to recommend to the full Legislature at its Oct. 18 meeting.

The legislation hasn't been written yet so it's unclear what it will look like. Some lawmakers, including Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, discussed reducing so-called drug-free zones to within 100 or 200 feet of schools and possibly just the boundaries of parks.

"This thing is just a plea-bargain tool," Pierce said, suggesting the possible 20-year prison term the law brings gives prosecutors leverage to get defendants to agree to plea bargains carrying less time behind bars.

The current law, passed in 1988, covers schools, parks, certain housing complexes and buildings such as churches and even homes that host youth programs.

DePauw University professor Kelsey Kauffman distributed maps to members of the commission showing two neighborhoods in Indianapolis, one around Arsenal Tech High School and the other around Crispus Attucks High School, that are largely blanketed by drug-free zones. The latter included an interstate highway, meaning people may unwittingly enter a zone with enough drugs to support a drug-trafficking charge.

The Indiana Supreme Court this year expressed its own concern about the law in two rulings. In both cases, the court threw out 20 years sentences and order 12-year terms. In one, the defendant would have received no more than a three-year term except police stopped the car he was in within 1,000 feet of a school.

"Very small parcels of land can have a huge impact," Kauffman told the commission.

She argued drug-free zones will not succeed unless they're few in number, small in size, and clearly marked, such as with a logo painted on a street.

However, Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said 34 other states have drug-free zone laws identical to Indiana's, and Alabama law creates zones within three miles of college campuses. He said a zone extending only 100 feet from a school is not large enough.

Carter said all of Indiana's county prosecuting attorneys support the current law.

"We urge you not to disturb the 1,000 feet," he said.