Wednesday, October 01, 2014

New Harris DA program keeps pot smokers out of jail

Further evidence that Texas is rethinking its approach to small-time marijuana cases:

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson has announced a new diversion program for Class B misdemeanor marijuana cases (possession of up to 2 oz) for first-time offenders. See her press release.

Instead of being arrested, "Individuals who are detained by the Houston Police Department or Harris County Sheriff’s Office will be taken to a substation to confirm their identity and to be fingerprinted and then will be offered the First Chance Intervention Program."

Then, "Depending on a short evaluation, individuals will either have to complete eight hours of community service or an eight-hour class and the program will either last 60 days or 90 days." Also, "Individuals arrested by other law enforcement agencies for possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana will be offered the program in court." Non-compliance will result in an arrest warrant.

Your correspondent has mixed feelings about this. I'm glad for a program that keeps pot smokers out of jail. The majority of the 43,000+ Class B misdemeanor cases in Harris County last year were for pot possession, according to Anderson's press release. But this does seem to substitute a prosecutor's discretion for judicial oversight in a way that poses significant due process questions. It's not like arrestees will be appointed counsel at the police substation.

Plus, folks still will be hauled off in handcuffs, even if they don't spend time in jail. I'd prefer Anderson had convinced HPD and the Sheriff to use their authority to issue citations for these cases instead of arresting people. Her Democratic opponent in November, Kim Ogg, has advocated that approach.

Indeed, given my druthers, Grits hopes the Legislature simply reduces low-level pot possession to a Class C or civil penalty in the coming session before any of the potential due process issues come to a head. In the meantime, this should reduce jail crowding and indigent defense costs.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the DA's decision is the extent to which the terms of debate over marijuana have radically shifted, even among tuff-on-crime conservatives like Anderson. Big ships turn slowly so it's significant to find a bipartisan consensus among DA candidates in the state's most populous county that jailing pot smokers is a waste of time and resources.

MORE: An astute commenter recalled that Anderson had taken the exact opposite stance on marijuana earlier this year in this Obama bashing press release. So this is a new position, probably adopted to mimic her opponent Democrat Kim Ogg's suggestion for issuing citations for pot possession. AND MORE: From the Houston Chronicle.


Anonymous said...

Who is going to complain? Pay the DA's $500 administrative fee up front and you walk on the charge. Much cheaper than going to trial even if you win your case. DA will make tons of money "saving the county" indigent defense costs and jail costs, can't see anyone objecting to this.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

One would have thought the same thing about Pat Lykos' pretrial diversion program on DWI, 5:07, but it eventually was challenged and ditched.

TriggerMortis said...

Devon Anderson is to be despised. She is a sick power-hungry sociopath who is pandering to the common-sense voters in an effort to keep her job.

Anderson suddenly knows which way the wind is blowing since Kim Ogg, who has announced her candidacy for DA, first proposed this idea several months ago.

Before Kim proposed it, Anderson's position was to imprison anyone caught with a reefer. She even released a statement to this effect back in January:

TriggerMortis said...

Sorry GFB, I meant to include this link to Kim's ideas in my previous post but forgot it:

Chris H said...

This program is essentially "admit you're a witch". Harris/Houston jails are leveraging their inefficiencies in bringing a person before a magistrate in order to get a confession from their suspect. If the person's name is run by a cop later, I guarantee participation in this program will be used in a" totality of the circumstances "to establish probable cause to search then.

Anonymous said...

The way I understand it, no arrested individual is required to participate in the program. They can decline to participate and have their case filed in court. I get a real kick out of the negative comments. Elected officials appear to be damned if they do, damned if they don't. If Devon Anderson hadn't implemented a such program, wails of displeasure would have followed from those who now complain about the program she has implemented.

Chris H said...


Of course they're damned if they do, damned if they don't. As Thoreau put it, "It is a damnable business in which they are concerned."

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