The night is no refuge for drug seller

February 10, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

It doesn't matter whether school's out or not: Drug dealers face heavier penalties if they do business near schools in Maryland, the state's highest court has ruled.

The Maryland Court of Appeals unanimously ruled on Monday that the drug-free school zone law applies 24 hours a day. The court upheld the conviction of a Harford County man who had argued that he should not have been charged with violating the law at night.

In an opinion written by Judge Howard S. Chasanow, the court upheld the conviction of Stacy Eugene Dawson, 31, formerly of Street, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Dawson was indicted by a Harford County grand jury on charges of distributing cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school.

At 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 6, 1990, he sold a quarter-gram of cocaine to an undercover Harford sheriff's deputy outside Halls Coss Road Elementary School in Aberdeen, according to the indictment.

While sitting on a 4-foot-high wall outside the school, Dawson signaled to a passing car being driven by the undercover officer. The officer stopped and paid $25 for the cocaine, the indictment said.

After his June 1991 conviction by a Harford jury, Dawson appealed the case to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals -- the intermediate appellate court.

It was the first challenge to the law in Maryland.

Dawson argued that his right to due process was violated when he was charged with breaking the school zone law at a time when children were not present.

Before the intermediate court had a chance to hear the case, the Court of Appeals decided to take it.

Judge Chasanow said the 1989 law was intended to protect children from drugs around the clock. He said children frequent areas surrounding schools after hours for extracurricular and community activities. He added that children could be exposed to discarded drug packaging, paraphernalia or litter as a result of drug sales.

Judge Chasanow said the law was designed "to convince those engaged in the drug market that the risks associated with conducting business in school areas, regardless of the hour, greatly outweighed their potential profits."

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