School rule: 1,000 feet add felony drug charge
Of the eight alleged drug dealers arrested by the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement Task Force recently, three of the suspects picked up additional felony charges for allegedly plying their trade within a legal buffer zone around a school– in one case, the University of Virginia.
An October 20 press release from JADE indicates that 26-year-olds Jose N. Cano of Woodridge and Jorge Saul Rosales-Garcia of Fredericksburg were attempting to sell 4.5 ounces of cocaine around 11am October 20 in the 1800 block of Seminole Trail. The two men picked up an additional felony charge because the alleged transaction occurred within 1,000 feet of a school, a violation of 18.2-255.2 in the Virginia Code.
JADE's Lieutenant Don Campbell would not release the exact location at which the out-of-towners were arrested, but he says the proximate school is Woodbrook Elementary and that JADE knew the distance was less than 1,000-feet because Albemarle police told them.
"We wouldn't have charged it if it wasn't right," says Campbell.
According to Google maps, the Crutchfield electronics store lies in the 1800 block of Seminole Trail. So is Kohr Brothers Frozen Custard. Though parts of each of their respective shopping centers, Rio Hill and Woodbrook, may lie within 1,000 feet of a school, neither offers a clear view of the closest school.
Campbell also says Cano and Rosales-Garcia are held without bond because of the amount of coke and because they're illegal aliens. They're back in court Thursday, November 19.
Carlos Wilfredo Garcia Sanchez, 38, also picked up a 1,000-foot penalty charge when he was arrested October 22, allegedly with a considerably larger cache of cocaine–- approximately 500 grams worth. A JADE release puts his bust in the 2200 block of Barracks Road and again, Campbell refuses to disclose the exact location.
The nearby school in that bust? UVA.
Google Maps places the 2200 block of Barracks Road near the U.S. 250/29 Bypass– the 7-Eleven's address is 2218 Barracks Road. And searching nearby schools turns up UVA softball fields close to UVA Law School.
The Virginia statute is wide-sweeping in its definition of schools, and includes four-year institutions of higher learning, school bus stops, libraries, and publicly owned community centers. The felony charge carries a minimum of one year in jail and a maximum $100,000 fine, on top of the possession with intent to distribute charges the men already face.
"You can sell drugs one time and be charged with two offenses," says Public Defender Jim Hingeley, whose office is representing Cano and Rosales-Garcia. He says he's not familiar with the details of their two cases, but agreed to discuss the statute in general.
"The question the community might be concerned with is if you don't know a school is within 1,000 feet, should you be punished twice?" asks Hingeley. He points out that while the statute is designed to punish dealers who sell drugs to kids, it also ensnares those who have no intention of selling to students.
In 1990, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled in Commonwealth v. Burns that even if school is not in session and no children are involved, the threat of harm to children is present, and the court upheld a conviction.
How the 1,000 feet is measured was an issue in a 2008 case in which Amherst High star quarterback and Virginia Tech recruit Peter Rose allegedly sold pot to an undercover officer at a McDonald's. Amherst Commonwealth's Attorney Stephanie Maddox measured 1,000 feet as the crow flies from any corner of school property, which places the fast food restaurant 694 feet through the woods, according to a WSET-TV13 report.
Rose's defense attorney, Joe Sanzone, argued that the distance should be measured by how one would actually travel and that no one cuts through the woods to get to the McDonald's from school.
"You couldn't even see the school," says Sanzone. "There was no trail, and no one ever took that route." And his client's pot sale would have been a misdemeanor, but the 1,000-foot rule made it a felony.
"Is it that much worse than if it's 1,001 feet?" asks Sanzone. "Why pick this arbitrary distance? Why pick an arbitrary way of travel?"
How the law is enforced can be arbitrary, as well, says Sanzone. "Let's say UVA has a satellite parking lot on I-64. You can be driving by and be charged. What if it's a school for the elderly? It lends itself to a lot of nonsensical applications."
Sanzone says he understands the law is trying to prevent people from selling drugs in front of schools, but it isn't a deterrent when the "geographically unaware" don't know they're near a school.
"I think it looks good for politicians," he says. "It looks like a problem is being solved."