Friday, August 03, 2007

How one Texas county will take advantage of new law to reduce jail overcrowding

Here's how one Texas county (Colorado), will handle the new administrative procedures for HB 2391, a just-passed law which allows police officers to cite and summons low-level offenders (including for marijuana possession and driving with a suspended license) instead of arresting them. Wrote Ken Sparks of Columbus on the Texas DA's forum:
The police chiefs in my small county are planning to take the defendant to the police station, fingerprint and photograph the defendant, and then release the defendant with a citation that includes a future court date written on the citation. If they do not show up, a warrant will be issued for their arrest. If they appear, a CR-43 will be completed in court as is done in other summons situations. ...

We have not finalized all this yet, but are planning to give all the officers a list of county court dates. We will tell them to set the court date for 60 days from date of arrest which gives us time to get the paperwork, file the case,place it on the docket, etc.

The defendant will not appear before a magistrate until the court date, as is contemplasted by the new legislation; the county court judge will go through the new waiver of attorney procedure or appointment of attorney procedure if the defendant appears without an attorney.

We are also thinking about placing a thumbprint on the back of the original copy of the ticket for later ID. In any event we will have the videotape for ID pruposes, if necessary. Remember that they are a county residents.

When the defendant apears in county court, we will complete the CR-43 and fingerprint the defendant, just as we do now for defendants summoned in hot check cases. This send this in to DPS and it then becomes a part of their criminal history.

If the defendant fails to appear, a warrant will be issued for his/her arrest as an FTA on the same case. I think this procedure will work well in small counties.

I have encouraged my law enforcement agencies to establish a standard policy to avoid charges of favoritism, profiling, etc. We have a meeting in two weeks to finalize things. Perhaps they will choose to apply it only to first offenders. That is still to be decided.
I think that's moving forward in exactly the right way, to create departmental policies instead of letting this happen in a haphazard fashion. I had suggested earlier:
local officials need to be planning now to implement the new law come September 1. Existing local ticket books only allow for citations for Class C misdemeanors, so they must be altered or new ticket books must be created that are acceptable to local judges and county attorneys (who prosecute misdemeanors in most of Texas).

In addition, currently only municipal courts have an intake system for cite and summons cases. To take advantage of the jail population reductions made possible by HB 2391, county courts must create an intake infrastructure for defendants to arrive and make arrangements for their case. Nobody has that infrastructure in place right now, but it's probably the best new opportunity out there for reducing jail overcrowding without reducing public safety.
It sounds like Sparks and other local officials in Colorado County and elsewhere are beginning to ask those questions and set up those internal systems now, and that's a good thing. For counties with a jail overcrowding problem, HB 2391 was the most important new tool created to address the problem in the 80th Texas Legislature.

Once again, in case the DA's Association takes the link down I've copied the conversation here onto a Google document.


Don said...

Seems to me that even if they don't have a jail overcrowding problem, they need to do this. It costs 35-40 dollars a day to keep these folks in jail, plus they can be out making a living and supporting their family and paying taxes. Why lock someone up just because you can?

Anonymous said...

The same thing is being done in Bexar County for repeat offenders on probation. If probationers pick up a new charge for a low level offense, a summons to appear in court is mailed to the probationer's address rather than a warrant for their arrest. This includes those on probation for a felony offense.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@9:58 - I heard about that, and as I understand the change I support it. They only mail a summons for technical violations, right, not if they pick up a new charge? Personally, like Don, I don't see a problem with that.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't a citation bring in more revenue than jailing an offender at this low level of risk?

Anonymous said...

gritsforbreakfast - In Bexar County, courts will mail a summons to appear in court to a probationer for picking up a new charge so long as the new charge is a low level offense, such as possession of marijuana or driving while license invalid. A summons is also sent out for technical violations, which include failure to report or testing positive on a drug test. I agree with you grits that a summons is appropriate when you have someone with a technical violation. However, I have a problem with a summons being sent when a probationer picks up a new charge. Case in point, if the probationer has two felony drug cases and they pick up a third low level drug case, I don't think a summons should be sent. However, summons are being sent regardless of a probationers criminal history.

Anonymous said...

I think it is a bit early to state that jail population reductions will be realized in county jails if local jurisdictions utilize this law.

To do so assumes compliance on the part of a person, the defendant, who has already demonstrated some contempt for social norms.

I'm not saying that it won't reduce jail population, only that it is premature to state that it will as a fact.

It could be that the majority of these people will fail to appear and will then be arrested on two warrants rather than the single original charge.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have an idea of what counties are going to actually pay attention to this bill?? Any links available??

And what about HB 758/759, any info on that??