Tennessee Law Tightens Definition of Severe Child Abuse to Include Drug Exposure On May 4, 2021, the Tennessee Senate passed Senate Bill 1530 with an amendment that expands on the previous definition of “severe child abuse.” The amendment to the bill now includes “knowingly allowing a child to be within a structure where any of the following controlled substances are present and accessible to the child: a Schedule I controlled substance; cocaine; methamphetamine; or fentanyl.”

The new legislation aims to help further protect children and minors from access to drugs which may lead to overdoses. While the intentions are positive, this could potentially lead to the destruction of families when parents are charged under the law. Tennessee’s strict drug laws can put those convicted at risk of losing access to their families indefinitely.

What are common Schedule I drugs?

Schedule I drugs are characteristically recognized by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as having a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical treatment, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. Substances include LSD, MDMA, ecstasy, psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, and heroin. Federal law prohibits writing prescriptions for Schedule I substances. While THC marijuana is still considered under Schedule I federally, Tennessee has lessened its rank and severity of charges.

What are Tennessee drug schedules and charges?

  • Schedule I. Includes the high-risk substances listed above. Important to note: “designer drugs” which are pharmacologically similar to Schedule I and II substances can be charged at the equivalent level as others that are named. Delivery or possession with intent of these drugs are considered a Class B felony with 8 to 12 years of jail time and up to a $100,000 fine.
  • Schedule II. Includes drugs which are often abused, but may also be used for certain medical purposes. With addiction they may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. Common types are cocaine, methamphetamine, morphine, methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. Opioids such as codeine and Ritalin are also included in Schedule II. Depending on the circumstances and intent, penalties for getting caught with Schedule II drugs can range from a Class A to Class C felony. Class A results in 15 to 25 years and up to $500,000; Class C 3 to 6 years and up to $100,000. If charged with possession of deadly weapon, a Class C felony may be bumped to a Class B.
  • Schedule III. Slightly less dangerous and addictive than the previous, Schedule III includes abusable drugs such as ketamine, anabolic steroids, and testosterone. Charges for this category are under Class D felonies. They may result in 2 to 4 years jail time and up to $50,000 in fines.
  • Schedule IV. These drugs are considered to have a low potential for risk and dependence. They include Xanax, Soma, Valium, Ambien, and Tramadol. Possession with intent or delivery of these drugs may fall under a Class C or D felony.
  • Schedule V. These substances are defined as drugs with considerably lower potential for abuse and consist of very limited quantities of certain narcotics. Drugs in this category are often used in medical attention and treatment. Preparations with less than 200 milligrams of codeine fall under this rank, as well as Lomotil, Lyrica, and Tylenol. Penalties for this category are Class E felonies, with 1 to 2 years in jail and up to $5,000 in fines.
  • Schedule VI. Tennessee has placed marijuana, THC, and synthetic substances in Schedule VI. There are a wide variety of punishments, depending on the intent and amount with these substances. A small possession charge can be a Class A misdemeanor, but if caught distributing or growing over 300lbs of marijuana, the charge will be a Class A felony.

What are possible consequences of the SB 1530 Tennessee bill?

Drug-related felonies no doubt can cause an array of family disturbances, especially when a member is serving lengthy jail time for a crime. Rehabilitation after a felony is restrictive in many ways: limitations on employment, losing the right to vote, restrictions for further education, and in some cases, limitations on meeting with family.

Yet, according to the Tennessee General Assembly, this new law states includes “the requirement that reasonable efforts be made to preserve and reunify families.” However, at the same time, “such reasonable efforts are not required when the parent has subjected the child, the sibling of the child, or any child residing in the home to aggravated circumstances.” What constitutes aggravated circumstances? The amendment defines aggravated circumstances as severe child abuse, which is now set to include the allowance of a child within a structure where a Schedule I drug, cocaine, methamphetamine, or fentanyl is accessible.

Depending on the enforcement of this law, it could prove difficult for families looking to the hope of rehabilitation and reconciliation. Under this law, Tennessee has further restricted family members from reuniting after serving their time for a crime under certain circumstances. The inclusion of siblings furthers the reach of this punishment by potentially preventing parents from contact with all minors in their home after a convicted offence of that nature.

How will an attorney help?

New laws such as SB 1530 can have unintended and significant effects if you are convicted of a drug crime, which is why having a skilled and knowledgeable lawyer on your side is so valuable. Tennessee criminal code can be extremely complex and may be amended at any time. Having an experienced attorney help navigate your case can be a deciding factor in the ultimate outcome for your case.

A local lawyer fighting for your rights amidst a felony charge can provide specific legal insight, localized resources, and familiarity with the court. Effective Sevierville criminal defense lawyers understand what is at stake with the caliber of charges at hand and will do everything they can to protect your rights under the law.

Are you currently facing charges for drug possession or distribution? When it comes to protecting your rights and your family, you want an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. At Delius & McKenzie, PLLC, we put our resources, skills, and drive to work to help fight for your rights as you face felony charges. Please fill out our contact form or call 865-428-8780 to schedule an appointment. Our team also offers in-custody visits. We serve clients in Sevierville, Seymour, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge, and throughout the region.