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He Got 17 Years for Selling Drugs Near School. Now 12 Nashville Officials are Fighting on his Behalf

Twelve Metro Council members have signed a letter urging a criminal court judge to give relief to a Nashville man serving a 17-year sentence on a nonviolent drug conviction.

Calvin Eugene Bryant, 31, was arrested in 2008 and booked in jail on charges of selling drugs — he was convicted in 2009. Because the crime took place within 1,000 feet of a school, state law mandated a longer sentence, one that the council members noted "was more severe than the sentence he would have received for committing a violent crime such as rape or second-degree murder."

Councilman Colby Sledge wrote the letter, which 11 other council members signed, in advance of a Dec. 15 hearing on Bryant's petition for sentencing relief in Judge Steve Dozier's courtroom.

According to a filing provided by Bryant's attorney, Daniel Horwitz, one of the prosecutors initially involved in Bryant's case agreed that Bryant should be released now, after serving nine years of his sentence.

Horwitz said he was grateful to the council members for their input.

“It simply does not make sense to punish first-time, non-violent drug offenders more severely than rapists and murderers," he said in an email. "After spending the past decade in prison, Mr. Bryant has more than paid his debt to society, and it is long past time that this grave injustice be remedied.”

Stricter sentences for drug crimes within 1,000 feet of schools have been criticized as discriminatory in recent years, particularly because they are more likely to affect suspects who live in densely populated urban areas. Bryant was living in Edgehill Apartments at the time of his arrest.

The intent of the law was to protect children from drugs and related crime. But the law allows for stricter penalties even if children weren't involved or if the crime happens in the middle of the night, when no one is at school.

Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk, who took office in 2014, has been critical of the law and has promised not to apply the law unless children are endangered as part of a crime.

A bill that would have changed Tennessee law so that penalties in drug-free zones applied only to a 500-foot radius around schools, libraries and parks was squashed by the General Assembly in March.

"The current zoning disproportionately impacts communities of color and other people who live in cities where schools, libraries and parks are close to other parts of the community," the ACLU of Tennessee said at the time. "Because African American and Latino people are far more likely than white people to live within drug-free zones, they are automatically and unconstitutionally targeted for harsher penalties for the same offenses in comparison to other Tennesseans."

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