State District Judge Michael McSpadden on Wednesday sent a letter to the state’s top officials and Houston’s senators and representatives asking for a change in what he called “draconian” laws.
During the last session, McSpadden stood alone when he asked that charges for possession of a controlled substance of less than 1 gram be reduced from a state jail felony to a misdemeanor. Two years later, judges from both major political parties are joining the Republican who has been on the bench for more than 20 years.
“Sixteen of us feel that it’s just unfair to be convicted for a residue amount and be labeled a felon, which changes your whole life,” McSpadden said. “We’re not talking about legalizing it; we’re talking about making it a misdemeanor.”
Here's the list of judges supporting the change:
Judges who signed on with McSpadden include fellow Republicans Debbie Mantooth Stricklin, Jeannine Barr, Vanessa Velasquez, Denise Collins, Marc Carter, Belinda Hill, Joan Campbell and Jim Wallace.
Democrats supporting the initiative, who were all elected in November, include Ruben Guerrero, Shawna Reagin, Kevin Fine, David Mendoza, Randy Roll, Hazel Jones and Maria Jackson.
This seems like almost a watershed moment; Judge McSpadden has been on this lonely quest for years and deserves a lot of credit for convincing his fellow judges to put their reputations on the line with such a request:
In his letter, McSpadden suggested reducing the charge and mandating drug treatment. He also recommended funding misdemeanor drug courts.
McSpadden said 25 percent to 30 percent of Harris County’s 22 criminal district court dockets are felony charges for less than 1 gram of a controlled substance.
The change, McSpadden argues, would lower dockets and create uniform enforcement across the state. He noted that Dallas County police and prosecutors place a lower priority on these offenses, leading to disparate treatment between counties.
McSpadden said his concerns come from fielding complaints about the system from juries and residents.
“The ‘War on Drugs’ isn’t working, and we as judges realize it,” McSpadden said. “And the public realizes it.”
New Harris DA Pat Lykos offered mostly pragmatic objections to the idea, which, while less than supportive, contrasted starkly to the lock-em-up priorities of her predecessor. Houston Rep. Harold Dutton has filed HB 287 that would enact the change in the law the judges are requesting.