Bexar County DA Susan Reed thinks that a new Texas law allowing a needle exchange program to operate in Bexar County doesn't mean participants can't still be arrested. According to the San Antonio Express News ("DA warns of needle exchange problem," Aug. 3), Reed announced:
"I'm telling them, and I'm telling the police chief, I don't think they have any kind of criminal immunity," Reed said. "That's the bottom line. It has nothing to do with whether they do it or don't do it — other than if you do it you might find yourself in jail."Thank you, Miss Flexibility, for that stirring legal analysis. Of course, that's the opposite of what the Legislature intended. Rep. Ruth McLendon, whose amendment allowed the program, says the DA is wrong. Plus:
So to get to her position that needle exchange participants should be arrested, Reed must ignore the actual, stated legislative intent of the just-passed law. This DA's arrogance continues to astonish me. Personally I think Bexar officials should just blow Reed off and work around her.
McClendon pointed to an exchange on the Senate floor between Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, who introduced the Medicaid bill, and Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, who told her: "I did want to establish some legislative intent on the amendment regarding needle exchange. Is it your intent that, notwithstanding any other statutes, Bexar County will be allowed to legally operate a needle exchange program under the provisions of the bill?"
"That is correct," Nelson replied.
I'm told the local police chief and county sheriff both support a needle exchange program. Those agencies should create written policies that formally disallow officers from arresting participants in a needle exchange program solely for violating paraphernalia laws by carrying needles. The program could issue a participants' card that's recognized by police policy, so that someone with one of those cards wouldn't be arrested for carrying needles to or from an exchange site.
If nobody gets arrested, Ms. Reed can't prosecute them. Simple.
Meanwhile, whatever the outcome in Bexar, the law should be clarified in 2009 to entirely eliminate her feeble argument.
UPDATE: Seen an interesting discussion on the subject among Texas prosecutors on their user forum.