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State v. Benniefield

April 22, 2004

STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT,
v.
STEVEN ALLEN BENNIEFIELD, APPELLANT.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. Minnesota Statutes § 152.023, subd. 2 (4) (2002), which enhances the crime of possession of a controlled substance from fifth degree to third degree if the defendant's possession occurs within a school zone, does not violate the equal protection guaranty of the Minnesota Constitution.

2. The crime of third-degree possession of a controlled substance in a school zone does not require the state to prove that the defendant knew he was in a school zone or intended to commit the crime in a school zone.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hanson, Justice.

Affirmed.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

OPINION

Appellant was convicted of third-degree possession of a controlled substance within a school zone. He argues that punishing possession within a school zone more harshly than possession outside a school zone violates the equal protection guaranty of the Minnesota Constitution. Alternatively, he argues that a conviction of this crime requires proof that he either knew he was in a school zone or intended to commit the crime in a school zone. Because there is a rational basis to enhance the crime where possession occurs within a school zone, and the plain language of the statute does not impose a mens rea requirement on the location element of the crime, we affirm.

On December 17, 2001, at approximately 11:00 p.m., police officer John Fishbauger noticed appellant Steven Allen Benniefield walking at the corner of 7th Avenue and 6th Street Southeast in Rochester, Minnesota, within approximately 61 feet of the Riverside School property line. The officer recognized Benniefield from previous encounters and checked with police dispatch to see if there were any outstanding warrants for his arrest. After being informed that there was an outstanding warrant for Benniefield, Officer Fishbauger stopped Benniefield and placed him under arrest. During a pat-down search, the officer discovered a makeshift crack pipe in Benniefield's pocket.

Benniefield was placed in another officer's squad car and taken directly to the adult detention center. When the transporting officer searched his squad car, he found a baggie containing small off-white colored "rocks." These rocks were later identified as containing 1.10 grams of cocaine.

Benniefield was charged with violation under Minn. Stat. § 152.023, subd. 2 (4) (2000), a third-degree controlled substance offense for possession of any amount of a Schedule II narcotic drug "in a school zone, a park zone, a public housing zone, or a drug treatment facility." Cocaine is a Schedule II narcotic drug. Minn. Stat. § 152.01, subd. 10 (2002). A school zone is defined as:

(1) any property owned, leased, or controlled by a school district or an organization operating a nonpublic school, as defined in section 123B.41, subdivision 9, where an elementary, middle, secondary school, secondary vocational center or other school providing educational services in grade one through grade 12 is located, or used for educational purposes, or where extracurricular or cocurricular activities are regularly provided;

(2) the area surrounding school property as described in clause (1) to a distance of 300 feet or one city block, whichever distance is greater, beyond the school property; and

(3) the area within a school bus when that bus is being used to transport one or more elementary or ...


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