OLR Bill Analysis

sHB 6581

AN ACT CONCERNING THE ENHANCED PENALTY FOR THE SALE OR POSSESSION OF DRUGS NEAR SCHOOLS, DAY CARE CENTERS AND PUBLIC HOUSING PROJECTS.

SUMMARY:

This bill makes a number of changes to the laws that enhance the penalties for illegal drug activities near schools, day care centers, and public housing projects. Under current law, a mandatory sentence applies in addition and consecutive to any prison term imposed for the underlying crime as follows:

1. one year for possessing drug paraphernalia within 1,500 feet of property comprising a public or private elementary or secondary school when the perpetrator is not enrolled as a student there;

2. three years for selling illegal drugs within 1,500 feet of property comprising a (a) licensed child day care center identified by a conspicuous sign, (b) public or private elementary or secondary school, or (c) public housing project; and

3. two years for possessing illegal drugs within 1,500 feet of property comprising a (a) licensed child day care center identified by a conspicuous sign or (b) public or private elementary or secondary school when the perpetrator is not enrolled as a student there.

Under the bill, the prison sentence under these provisions remains a term that is in addition and consecutive to any prison term imposed for the underlying crime but the court can suspend all or a portion of it without meeting the criteria required by current law (see BACKGROUND). The bill also limits the scope of these provisions by:

1. reducing the size of the zones around the locations from 1,500 to 200 feet;

2. for schools, requiring the illegal activity to occur during regular school hours or hours of any school-sponsored activity conducted on the property where students are present; and

3. for day care centers, requiring the illegal activity to occur during the center's operating hours.

The bill specifies that the zones are measured from the perimeter of the property.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2009

BACKGROUND

Departing From a Mandatory Minimum

Judges can impose less than the law's mandatory minimum sentence under these laws when no one was hurt during the crime and the defendant (1) did not use or attempt or threaten to use physical force; (2) was unarmed; and (3) did not use, threaten to use, or suggest that he had a deadly weapon (such as a gun or knife) or other instrument that could cause death or serious injury.

Defendants must show good cause and can invoke these provisions only once. Judges must state at sentencing hearings their reasons for (1) imposing the sentence and (2) departing from the mandatory minimum (CGS 21a-283a).

Penalties for Illegal Drug Crimes

By law, the penalty for using or possessing with intent to use drug paraphernalia is a class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to three months in prison, a fine of up to $ 500, or both. Delivering, possessing with intent to deliver, or manufacturing drug paraphernalia is a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $ 2,000, or both (CGS 21a-267).

By law, selling, manufacturing, or distributing a hallucinogen (not marijuana) or narcotic is punishable (1) for a first offense, by up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $ 50,000, or both; (2) for a second offense, up to 30 years, a fine of up to $ 100,000, or both; and (3) for a subsequent offense, up to 30 years, a fine of up to $ 250,000, or both. For marijuana and other controlled substances, the penalty is (1) for a first offense, up to seven years, a fine of up to $ 25,000, or both and (2) for a subsequent offense, up to 15 years, a fine of up to $ 100,000, or both (CGS 21a-277).

By law, a non-drug dependent person selling, manufacturing, or distributing at least one ounce of heroin or methadone, one half ounce of cocaine or crack, or five milligrams of LSD is subject to five to 20 years in prison to life. For narcotics, hallucinogens, one kilogram or more of cannabis, or amphetamines, the penalty is (1) for a first offense five to 20 years and (2) for a subsequent offense, 10 to 25 years. There is an exception to the mandatory minimum sentence if the offender is under age 18 or had a significantly impaired mental capacity at the time (CGS 21a-278).

By law, possession of narcotics is punishable (1) for a first offense, by up to seven years in prison, a fine of up to $ 50,000, or both; (2) for a second offense, up to 15 years, a fine of up to $ 100,000, or both; (3) for subsequent offenses, up to 25 years, a fine of up to $ 250,000, or both. Possession of a hallucinogen or four or more ounces of marijuana is punishable (1) for a first offense, by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $ 2,000, or both and (2) for a subsequent offense, by up to 10 years, a fine of up to $ 5,000, or both. Possession of other controlled substances or less than four ounces of marijuana is punishable (1) for a first offense, by up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $ 1,000, or both and (2) for a subsequent offense, up to five years, a fine of up to $ 3,000, or both (CGS 21a-279).

Related Bill

sSB 349, favorably reported by the Judiciary Committee, decriminalizes the illegal possession of less than one half ounce of marijuana by anyone age 18 or older by reducing the penalty to a violation punishable by a $ 250 fine.

COMMITTEE ACTION

Judiciary Committee

Joint Favorable Substitute

Yea

23

Nay

17

(04/01/2009)


OFA/OLR RACIAL AND ETHNIC IMPACT STATEMENT

sHB 6581

AN ACT CONCERNING THE ENHANCED PENALTY FOR THE SALE OR POSSESSION OF DRUGS NEAR SCHOOLS, DAY CARE CENTERS AND PUBLIC HOUSING PROJECTS.

Pursuant to PA 08-143 and Joint Rule 15(c)(2), a committee voted to require a racial and ethnic impact statement on this bill. Under the public act and rule, a committee can vote to require such a statement on a bill that would, if passed, increase or decrease the pretrial or sentenced population of state correctional facilities.

The following Racial and Ethnic Impact Statement is prepared for the benefit of the members of the General Assembly, solely for purposes of information, summarization and explanation and does not represent the intent of the General Assembly or either chamber thereof for any purpose.

This statement sets out demographic information on the state's general population and in the criminal justice population, within the limits of data currently available in Connecticut. We obtained data from the Department of Correction (DOC), Judicial Branch, and U. S. Census. The precision of direct comparisons between the data sources is limited because each agency defines demographic categories differently.

IMPACT STATEMENT

The bill makes a number of changes to the laws that enhance the penalties for drug activity near schools, day care centers, and public housing projects. It:

1. allows the prison term imposed under these laws to be suspended under any circumstances, and not just the limited ones set by current law and

2. limits the scope of these laws by (a) reducing the size of the zones around the locations from 1,500 to 200 feet and (b) restricting the time of day when illegal activity occurring near schools and day care centers qualifies for the enhanced penalty.

The bill specifies that the zones are measured from the perimeter of the property.

The available data shows disparities between the demographics of the general population and the demographics of offenders incarcerated for the crimes affected by the bill. Based on the data, the proportion of black and Hispanic inmates for drug offenses in general and for the drug offenses directly affected by the bill is greater than their proportion of the general population (see BACKGROUND). The proportion of white inmates is lower than their proportion of the general population.

Because the bill (1) gives the court discretion to suspend the sentence enhancements, which could reduce the length of prison sentences for offenders convicted under these statutes and (2) reduces the scope of these laws, which could reduce the number of people sentenced to prison under them, it could reduce this disparity between the general population and the prison population. But the bill's impact is unclear because of the (1) small number of offenders currently incarcerated for these crimes and (2) lack of data on plea bargaining that is only available from police, prosecutor, and court case files.

DOC Statistics for Drug Crimes

Based on data provided by DOC, 3,649 offenders were incarcerated with a drug crime as their most serious offense on January 1, 2009. Of these offenders, 17 were incarcerated under the enhanced penalties affected by the bill (all of these involved possession of illegal drugs). Table 1 displays this data.

Table 1: Offenders Incarcerated With Drug Crimes as Their Most Serious Offense, January 1, 2009

 

Black

Hispanic

White

Asian

American Indian

All Drug Offenses

Sentenced
(3,649 inmates)

54. 78%

33. 08%

11. 67%

0. 33%

0. 13%

Unsentenced
(608 inmates)

47. 20%

29. 61%

23. 03%

0. 0%

0. 16%

Drug Offenses Near Prohibited Places

Sentenced or Unsentenced
(17 inmates)

29. 41%

29. 41%

41. 18%

0. 0%

0. 0%

Judicial Branch Data for Drug Crimes

Based on Judicial Branch data, the courts disposed of 41,253 drug offenses in 2008. Of these, 5,999 were drug zone offenses affected by the bill. This amounts to 14. 54% of all drug offenses.

For all drug offenses, 25. 81% resulted in a conviction. For the drug zone offenses, 0. 67% resulted in a conviction.

This data is based on charges and not individuals. Thus, an individual could have more than one charge at a time and could have more than one charge in the course of a year.

Judicial Branch data is based on arrest reports and, in most instances, arrest reports do not show “Hispanic” as a category. Because Judicial Branch data reported on Hispanics is incomplete, we do not include it as a separate category. It is also important to note that because most arrest reports do not have a category for Hispanics, people who would otherwise be counted as Hispanic are counted in other categories, which inflates the numbers in those categories.

Table 2: Drug Offenses Disposed by the Courts in 2008

 

White

Black

Other

Offenses

All Drug Offenses (41,253 offenses)

61. 67%

33. 26%

5. 07%

Drug Offenses Near Prohibited Places (5,999 offenses)

47. 32%

46. 37%

6. 30%

Convictions

All Drug Offenses (10,646 offenses)

55. 98%

38. 95%

5. 06%

Drug Offenses Near Prohibited Places (40 offenses)

35. 00%

65. 00%

0. 0%

Maps of Zones

In the past, OLR created maps showing how drug zone laws affect specific towns (see OLR Reports 2001-R-0330 and 2005-R-0460 and Program Review and Investigations Committee report Mandatory Minimum Sentences, 2005). We were not able to update these maps to show the affect of the bill on individual towns within the time frame for producing this statement. We will produce maps for four towns, to show how the bill affects different types of towns in a soon-to-be completed OLR Report (2009-R-0184).

BACKGROUND

State and Prison Populations

According to U. S. Census estimates for July 1, 2007 (the most recent estimate available with data on race and ethnicity), Connecticut's total population is 3,502,309. The table below breaks down the state population by demographics, with Hispanics of any race counted as Hispanic and not included in any of the other demographic categories.

U. S. Census Population Estimates for Connecticut, July 1, 2007

 

Population

Percent of Total Population

White

2,604,349

74. 36%

Hispanic

403,375

11. 52%

Black or African American

327,250

9. 34%

Asian

117,628

3. 36%

American Indian and Alaska Native

8,178

. 23%

Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander

1,378

. 04%

Two or More Races

40,151

1. 15%

Total

3,502,309

100%

Using data provided by the DOC for January 1, 2009, the total sentenced prison population was 14,746 and the demographic composition of this population was:

● 28. 68% white,

● 26. 62% Hispanic,

● 44. 10% black,

● 0. 41% Asian, and

● 0. 18% American Indian.

Also incarcerated is the unsentenced population that includes defendants held pretrial and convicted offenders awaiting sentencing. According to DOC, the unsentenced prison population on January 1, 2009 was 3,832 and the demographic composition of this population was:

● 32. 72% white,

● 27. 24% Hispanic,

● 39. 35% black,

● 0. 31% Asian, and

● 0. 37% American Indian.

The chart below displays this Census and DOC prison population data.