Curious about what constitutes a playground? Then today is your lucky day, because the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has a 16-page opinion delving into the essence of playgrounds under federal law.
While the Tenth Circuit review fell short of an Aristotelian examination of a playground's metaphysical characteristics, it was enough to affirm the defendant's conviction for distributing drugs near a playground.
Federal law defines a "playground" as "any outdoor facility (including any parking lot appurtenant thereto) intended for recreation, open to the public, and with any portion thereof containing three or more separate apparatus intended for the recreation of children including, but not limited to, sliding boards, swingsets, and teeterboards." It also proscribes harsher penalties for those who distribute controlled substances within 1000 feet of a playground.
A confidential informant purchased controlled substances from Defendant Willie D. West in controlled buys. Some of these purchases occurred at West's apartment in Lawrence, Kansas. West's apartment was within 1000 feet of Holcom Park, and he was later convicted of distributing marijuana within 1000 feet of a public playground. West appealed, arguing that the alleged playground was not really a "playground."
The question for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals? Did Holcom Park contain the three "separate apparatus" necessary to constitute a "playground."
According to the government, "Holcom Park is ... a city park complex that includes ... four baseball fields, two soccer fields, two tennis courts, ... two handball courts, a volleyball court and a covered area for picnics and then a children's park area with ... a jungle-gym apparatus and another set of swings, and then a jungle-gym apparatus that sits next to the first one connected by a bar that you could swing across."
According to West, that connecting bar meant that Holcom Park had only two separate apparatus; therefore it was not a playground under federal law. The government countered that the bar didn't bar the conviction, because the sporting fields qualified as "separate apparatus."
Looking to sister circuits' opinions on the matter, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that baseball hoops and the totality of a softball field qualify as playground apparatus. As such, the Tenth Circuit found that Holcom Park was a playground because there were more than three playground apparatus.
If you're hesitant to recommend a plea bargain to a drug-distributing client because you're planning to attack the government's interpretation of what constitutes a playground apparatus, remember that the courts interpret the term "playground" liberally to include ... places where children play.
- U.S. v. Willie D. West (Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Playground Safety (FindLaw)
- Stark Raving Mad? Cal Court Says Ecstasy Not Controlled Substance (FindLaw's California Case Law blog)