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Sentencing Enhancement for Proximity to School Bus Stop in Washington Drug Case

Drug possession, manufacture, or sale that occurs in certain public places carries enhanced penalties under Washington law. Prison time or fines may be as much as double as what is otherwise allowed. Under RCW 69.50.435, locations that can result in sentencing enhancements include schools, school buses, public parks, certain public housing projects, public transit vehicles and public transit vehicle stop shelters, and certain civic centers and the surrounding areas.  Seattle drug crime attorneys understand the importance of location in drug cases.  Additionally, the statute allows for an enhancement if the offense occurs within a specified distance from school grounds or a school bus route stop.

school busA defendant recently challenged a jury’s verdict related to an enhancement.  He argued the state had not sufficiently proved that the location fell within the statutory definition for the enhancement.

A police officer found methamphetamine and paraphernalia in the defendant’s vehicle following a routine traffic stop.  The defendant was charged with possession with intent to deliver within 1,000 feet of a school bus route stop. A school district employee testified a school bus route stop was located within 1,000 feet from the location where the officer first saw the defendant’s vehicle.  He also testified that a school bus carrying preschool students used that stop.

The defendant was found guilty of possession with intent to deliver.  They also found that he had possessed the controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school bus route stop designated by a school district. The defendant appealed, arguing the state had not presented sufficient evidence for the enhancement.  He based his argument on the legal definition of “school bus route stop.”

The appeals court noted that the statute required only that the stop be designated as a “school bus route stop” by a school district.  The appeals court found the testimony sufficient to meet the statute’s plain language and support the special verdict.

The defendant, however, argued that the state had not shown that the bus that used the stop qualified as a “school bus” under the definition in the Washington Administrative Code.  Under RCW 69.55.435(6)(b), a “school bus” is defined by the superintendent of public instruction in the administrative rules.  The appeals court, however, found the enhancement statute defined “school bus route stop” as a stop designated by a school district, rather than merely as a place where a “school bus” stops.  The appeals court pointed out that there are municipal buses that carry students, and the statute could cover stops that are designated by a school district, even if no “school bus” uses the stop.  The appeals court therefore applied the plain language of the statute, without regard to the definition of “school bus” in the Washington Administrative Code, and found the state presented sufficient evidence to prove the enhancement.

In this case, the defendant was sentenced to an additional 24 months due to the enhancement.  This case shows the significance of location in drug cases and the importance of challenging an assertion that the alleged offense occurred within an enhancement zone.  If you are facing drug charges, you need a skilled Seattle drug crime attorney to fight for you.  Call Blair & Kim, PLLC at (206) 622-6562 to discuss your case.

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Paraphernalia Possession Not Sufficient to Establish Probable Cause for Intent to Use in Washington

Washington Appeals Court Finds No Unlawful Seizure in Drug Possession Case

Image: FreeImages.com / Sam LeVan