Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Structured Sentencing On Pot Might Help County Jails

Texas state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, has introduced HB 254, which would lower the penalty in Texas for possession of less than an ounce of pot to a class C misdemeanor, which is the equivalent of a fine-only traffic ticket. Dutton told WOAI News in San Antonio, "We're not going to tie up our courts with this any longer. We'll turn it over to municipal courts and you can pay the fine and go on."

Dutton's proposal would be a huge boon to Texas' overcrowded county jails. If it were to pass, most pot offenders would start to generate local revenue rather than cost the county money. That's the main reason the idea has a chance.

"We need to be smart on Texans pocketbooks, and leave the criminal justice system to more heinous crimes. To give people 180 days in jail for having two seeds of marijuana on their floorboards seems to be a waste of the state's time and money, and a waste of the lives of the people who have to suffer that punishment," Dutton said

In 2003, Dutton authored similar, surprisingly well-received legislation, HB 715,
which he co-sponsored with Rep. Jack Stick, an Austin Republican who was deposed by Democrat Mark Strama in the November election. Hopefully Dutton can find other Republican support for his bill this year; smart on crime or not, it'll have to be a bipartisan effort to succeed. For a discussion of how this proposal fits into the economics of Texas' overincarceration crisis, see this Grits post.

Via Loretta Nall


1 comment:

Steve Bates said...

Such a change would be welcome to prospective jurors as well. Of the last four times I've been called for jury duty in Harris County, three were drug cases involving small quantities of marijuana. (The fourth was a murder case, but that's another story.) I was never selected, because I could not promise to consider the most extreme penalties for crimes whose primary victim was the user himself. (Aside: I have never used illegal drugs, and plan never to do so.)

My best drug jury story: during voir dire, an elderly woman made the statement (and this is pretty much an exact quote), "I believe in the Bill of Rights... except for drugs." I rest my case.

Steve Bates
The Yellow Doggerel Democrat