Thursday, July 10, 2008

Up in smoke

I guess I do not understand why you wouldn't want to issue citations to appear in Court for possession of minor amounts of marijuana if there are no aggravating factors involved such as resisting arrest, or attempted destruction of evidence.

Unless I'm missing something don't they still have to appear in Court and answer to the misdemeanor charges? Proof of the citation and signature on it would be sufficient to issue a warrant for arrest if they fail to appear and they have another charge pending against them.

It keeps Law Enforcement folks on the street and on patrol. It puts less folks into the jail, easing overcrowding and therefore in the long run should cost the county less money.

I also do not believe it minimizes or marginalizes the possession of marijuana.

I-Team: Misdemeanor law not being utilized in Bexar County
Brian New: KENS 5 Eyewitness News

It was suppose to revolutionize the criminal justice process. Lawmakers promised it would make our streets safer as well as ease our overcrowding jails. So what has happened now that House Bill 2391 is now a law?

Implementing the new law was suppose to be — literally — as easy as writing a ticket, but some say it's not since Bexar County is not willing to give the a law a try.
"My hope is in the long term a substantial number will take advantage of it," said Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano.

The new state law gives officers the option to write a ticket for many misdemeanor crimes, including possession of less than four ounces of marijuana.

Since the law went into effect last September, the San Antonio Police Department and the Bexar County Sheriff's Office have made nearly 5,000 busts for marijuana possession.

The I-Team has uncovered out of those cases none of the officers wrote a ticket. So why isn't Bexar County taking advantage of the new law?

"Rep. Madden may wish to minimize marijuana possession. I don't," said Bexar County District
Attorney Susan Reed.

Travis County is the only agency in the state that's using the new citation law.

Last month, 37-year-old Adrian Williams was caught with a few ounces of marijuana. Instead of being arrested, he was given a ticket by a Travis County deputy and was told to show up to court.

After appearing before the judge, Williams left the courtroom and headed over to be booked, meanwhile the deputy who busted him was never taken off the street.

"Like most agencies, we don't have enough patrol officers out there. And it's not very efficient to bring someone out of their district for sometimes four hours to book somebody for a relatively minor offense," said Major Scott Burroughs with the Travis County Sheriff's Office.
The only difference if Williams had been arrested in Bexar County versus in Travis County is the timing.
In Bexar County, an officer would have arrested Williams on the spot and taken him right then and there to jail. While there he would have sat in jail for several hours before appearing before a judge.

Williams, a father of four, says he would have lost his job if he had been arrested the day he was caught with marijuana.
"Instead of having to be locked up and having no job to go back to, just take off a day, take care of what you got to do and go back to work," he said.

For the past eight months the Travis County Sheriff's Office, has been writing tickets instead of making arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession. By doing so the jails are now less crowded and deputies remain on patrol longer.

It also cuts their fuel usage since deputies are no longer making so many trips to the county jail.
"Everything has been plus, plus, plus. We have not found a single negative to it yet," said Burroughs.

The only question county officials had was would marijuana offenders that were issued a ticket show up for court?

So far 90 percent have appeared in court, which is a better turnout than the county's traffic courts.

"To be honest I'm pleasantly surprised how high the appearance rate is here," Burroughs said.
Reed says issuing tickets instead of making arrests is not the solution for the county's overcrowded jails or it's overburdened officers.

"I argue it's minimizing and marginalizing drug offenses," Reed said. "The procedure is treating (it) just like a traffic ticket, and I don't think it's appropriate."

Until the DA can be convinced otherwise, what lawmakers may have thought would revolutionize the criminal justice process is nothing more than a law gone up in smoke in Bexar County.

Madden, who authored the bill, says he's not discouraged and says there is still time for Bexar county to give it a try.

Reed says at this time the county has no plans to do so.