NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A new state law has the power to reduce prison sentences for hundreds of Tennessee drug offenders.
In 2020, the state legislature passed a law that no longer required mandatory minimum sentences for people caught buying or selling drugs in a school zone — meaning there was previously no option for parole or early release.
The law also shortened drug-free school zones from 1,000 to 500 feet around schools. But that law was not made retroactive for people already behind bars for this offense until April 2022.
Last month, Governor Bill Lee signed a bill allowing courts to reduce sentences for school zone drug offenders if the act took place farther than 500 feet from the school zone, or if counsel can prove the act didn’t endanger any children.
On Wednesday, a Nashville woman became the first person in Tennessee to receive a reduced sentence under that new law.
Jenica Gant previously pleaded guilty to selling drugs inside her home back in 2011. At the time, it was within 1,000 feet of a school zone. She was sentenced to 15 years.
But during a Wednesday court hearing, Nashville Judge Steve Dozier agreed that Gant didn’t pose a threat to any children because her drug deal happened during the summer when kids weren’t in school.
“I stood here as an adult from decisions I made on my own,” Gant said. “It affected everyone I was connected to. Even though I had no immediate victims, I still had victims.”
Gant apologized to her friends and family and thanked the court for her reduced sentence.
“For anybody that hasn’t made up their mind to walk the right path, they should decide to walk the right path,” Gant said.
Sunny Eaton with the Nashville District Attorney’s Office is the director of the Conviction Review Unit. She says Gant’s case was “symbolic” of the type of “unfairness” caused by drug-free school zone laws.
“None of Ms. Gant’s offenses occurred at a time or a place where children were actually exposed. They were in the summertime. They were at night. They were on her own property,” Eaton said. “I think you’ll find in any metropolitan area, particularly in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, people live near schools.”
Eaton says Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk is committed to addressing injustices in the community. His office has already identified 20 to 30 cases similar to Gant’s that they plan to petition.
“These laws were applied and these arrests were made in ways that illustrated injustice that frankly lead to abuse and over-policing and contributed to mass incarceration,” Eaton said.
Gant is expected to be released from prison as early as Wednesday night.