Tennessee May Allow Resentencing for Drug-Free School Zone Offenders After Reason Investigation

Following a judicial review, hundreds of Tennessee residents who are serving time in prison for offenses that fall within the drug-free zone may be eligible to resentence. ReasonFour years ago, an investigation revealed how harsh and unlogical their sentences had been.

Tennessee passed legislation in 2020 to shrink the drug-free schools zones, tighten mandatory minimum sentences and make it easier for people to apply them. However, that legislation didn’t include retroactive relief or any provision for approximately 400 prisoners. Already in prison. The Tennessee Senate unanimously approved A billThis bill was introduced earlier in the week to allow anyone convicted of drug-free school zone offenses that were under the old law, to petition a judge for their resentencement. To be signed, the bill will now go to the Governor’s desk.

“This day is great for the 400 Tennessee families that were left behind after the changes in the school zone laws in 2020,” Matthew Charles was a policy associate with FAMM, which is a criminal justice advocacy organisation that supported the legislation. The current law would have meant that many of the defendants wouldn’t have been sentenced to the same length. The legislative solution allows a judge the opportunity to give them a fair sentence, which can allow them to reunite with their loved ones and friends.

The 2018 edition Reason investigation DetailHow Tennessee’s drug-free schools zones covered large swathes of urban areas, and made minor drug offenses into sentences comparable to those for murder or rape. Tennessee was the most severe of the 50 states that have laws that prohibit drug use in schools. The old law defined the boundaries as 1,000 feet around every park, school, library and daycare. These zones were in place for 27% of Nashville, and 38% of Memphis. The applicants applied every day, regardless of whether children were present. The application was made in private residences or when the applicant was just driving around the area. 

Reason highlighted cases like Calvin Bryant’s. Bryant was a college student at 20 years old. He had been selling drugs, mostly ecstasy and 320 pills out of his Nashville home to a confidential informant in 2008. He was first accused of a drug crime. He would normally have spent at least 2 1/2 years prison. Bryant was able to be sentenced automatically because he lived within 1,000 feet from an elementary school. Bryant was PublishedIn 2018, after his appeal was accepted by the local district lawyer, it was dismissed.

2020 will see the creation of a state Legislature A bill was passed reducing the size of these zones to 500 feet from protected locations and requiring that the mandatory minimum sentences be applied only if a defendant’s conduct actually endangered children.

“I’m thrilled to see the Tennessee Legislature pass retroactive sentencing reform, especially in the current political climate,” says Lauren Krisai, senior policy manager at the Justice Action Network and co-author of Reason‘s investigation. “It’s huge. Legislators realized that the enhanced sentences for these crimes were outrageously unfair. They put politics aside and set right an injustice. This bill will allow many people who are currently in prison to be released earlier and have a faster reunification process with their loved ones.