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Nov 12 17

Bexar County’s “Cite and Release” Policy to Lower Punishment for Possession of Marijuana

Carlos Solis

 

By Alex Lopez Lena

Hilley & Solis Law, PLLC

 

Bexar County is looking to establish a cite and release program for those charged with misdemeanors, such as traffic offenses, theft of service, and low-quantity marijuana possession.

The strategy of the policy is to remove jail sentences and replace these with less destructive penalties for non-violent offenses. 

Court summons, fines, and classes are all going to be a part of the new policy. 

The plan's end is to relieve the over congested Bexar county jail of quasi-criminals, and of the fiscal responsibilities that come fixed to their capturing. 

Low-crime-offenders will be issued a court date to appear once or twice a month before a county judge. The charges will be removed from the offender’s record if (1) he takes a class concerning the crime committed, (2) does community service, and (3) pays a fine within 90 days.

For over a year, District Attorney Nico LaHood, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, and San Antonio Police Chief William McManus have been exploring the cite and release program. 

The central idea surrounding the judicial action is to remove the strains and life-long reproaches that follow most U.S. criminals. 

DA LaHood says the current system gives Bexar County jail the opportunity to house non-violent criminals, those who we are just mad at. He believes that prison should preferably be a place for people who are actual threats to society for days on. 

The program will include specific crimes (e.g., marijuana possession) while it exempts others. The new plan, for instance, will not obstruct arrests that involve the possession of synthetic marijuana.

LaHood included the following criminal violations as part of the program:

  • Class A & B possession of marijuana (up to 4 ounces)

  • Class B criminal mischief

  • Class B theft of service

  • Class B theft

  • Class B driving with an invalid license

A few months back in July, the Bexar County jail was forced to transport 98 of its inmates to Karnes County jail due to Bexar County's overpopulation of prisoners.

Sheriff Javier Salazar says his staff is currently reviewing Bexar County's prison records to learn how many inmates could have previously benefited from the program. Salazar hopes this measure will help to ease the prison's crowding issue. 

No doubt the implementation of the county’s cite and release policy would reduce the population of its jail, saving the taxpayer money.

The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition reported in its “Adult Criminal Justice Data Sheet (2015)” that the imprisonment of pre-trial defendants with misdemeanor charges cost Bexar County taxpayers an average of $18,113.00, per day.

Other cities in Texas have implemented similar programs.  In April of this year, the Dallas City Council approved a cite and release policy by a 10-5 vote. If enacted, the program would replace arrests for court summonses to people caught in possession of low-levels of marijuana. 

But the program’s future appears to be unclear. This month, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price mentioned in a letter to Assistant Police Chief Gary Tittle that the city’s “so-called” cite and release program was “dead on arrival.” Price’s stated his concerns “in behalf of Dallas County” for the program’s unfairness, bureaucratic plan of action and costs. 

Partner commissioners of Price said that though his letter shares many of their own concerns, it does not speak for the Dallas County as a whole. Adding that its cite and release program is still alive and kicking despite setbacks. In any case, the policy’s Oct. 1 start date now appears to be a no-go.  

The increase in the use of these programs across the state seems to correlate with eh public support in decriminalizing Marijuana. 

 

Source: Survey conducted Aug. 21- Sep. 21, 2016. Pew Research Center.

 

In spite of growing criticism, Houston and Harris County’s District Attorney Kim Ogg announced in the midst of February their version of the policy. The cite and release motion is set to initiate on March 1st, and like Dallas’ new policy blueprint, theirs will also focus on discontinuing the penalization (via arrest, fine, or court summons) of people busted with less than four ounces of marijuana. Alternatively, if the offenders agree to take a four-hour drug-ed class, all corresponding charges will be dropped. 

In her official statement, DA Ogg concluded that “minor law violations” needlessly weaken the offender's capacity of finding a good job or greater housing. “We have spent in excess of $250 million, over a quarter-billion dollars, prosecuting a crime that has produced no tangible evidence of improved public safety,” she said.

Back in Bexar County, it is too early to declare its cite and release program an achievement by any political measure. Even so, drug rehabilitation experts joined their voices in support of the program's health benefits. 

Rise Recovery’s executive director Evita Morin said the plan could help marijuana users avoid a much steeper climb. She is confident that it can get people help before illegal activity leads them down a darker road. 

John Mejia, head of the Alamo Center Education and Treatment Services program took a second to acknowledge that the new county program, though beneficial, will not work for everybody. 

“[Only] if they’re ready to change, it can help,” Mejia assured. 

If you are cited for any of these offenses once the program begins, our attorneys can help get you through the necessary steps.  

 

 

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