Thursday, February 16, 2017

Harris DA: Cease arresting pot smokers

Grits was glad to see new Harris County DA Kim Ogg implementing more aggressive marijuana diversion policies, even than her predecessor Devon Anderson. Reported the Houston Chronicle:
The policy, set to begin March 1, means that misdemeanor offenders with less than four ounces of marijuana will not be arrested, ticketed or required to appear in court if they agree to take a four-hour drug education class, officials said. 
Ogg said the county has spent $25 million a year for the past 10 years locking up people for having less than 4 ounces of marijuana. She said those resources would be better spent arresting serious criminals such as burglars, robbers and rapists. 
"We have spent in excess of $250 million, over a quarter-billion dollars, prosecuting a crime that has produced no tangible evidence of improved public safety," she said. "We have disqualified, unnecessarily, thousands of people from greater job, housing and educational opportunities by giving them a criminal record for what is, in effect, a minor law violation." 
Officials have said it could divert an estimated 12,000 people a year out of the criminal justice system and would save officers hours of processing time now spent on low-level cases. More than 107,000 cases of misdemeanor marijuana cases have been handled in the past 10 years, officials said. ...
At the sheriff's office, the new policy will save up to 12 hours of processing time per month for as many as 1,000 suspects, a move that will ease the workload on administrators and jailers who transfer and process inmates, officials said. 
See a description of the program from HCDAO, reactions from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and the Texas Organizing Project, and an estimate of the economic benefits (~$26 million per year) from the new policy.

All this said, the problem with programs based on prosecutors' discretion is that they're based on prosecutors' discretion. She could change it tomorrow, or another DA could be elected down the line and change it back. That's why the Legislature should act to reduce penalties for low-level pot possession, either to a Class C misdemeanor or a civil penalty, to eliminate most arrests for marijuana a) statewide and b) permanently. This is a positive step, but hardly a final one.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm curious... How is Ogg's exercise of discretion in this instance distinguishable from that of the Travis County Sheriff regarding the housing of ICE detainees in the Travis County jail? Both seem to be motivated by financial concerns. And both seem to be directly ignoring laws that seem to mandate that they act in a different fashion. I guess it just seems a little undemocratic to me that an elected law enforcement official can arbitrarily pick and choose which crimes that he or she will not prosecute regardless of the guilt or degree of evidence against the perpetrator. Could a DA who approves of adults having sex with a 14 year olds just unilaterally decide that no arrest should be made or charge files if that offender agreed to go to a four hour counseling session? I think you're kind of getting to my point, Grits, when you recognize that ultimately it's the Legislature that needs to be making these sorts of social policy judgments. But then again, when George Soros donates $800,000 to your campaign, I guess you darn well better do what George Soros wants, right?

Trev said...

I think you mean lower it to a class c misdemeanor. Class A would be a higher penalty with jail time possible.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@4:57, in fact both are exercising their legal discretion and are on pretty firm legal foundations. It's you who seem to misunderstand their duties and what the law "mandates." There are thousands of laws and limited resources, with local officials charged with using their discretion to set priorities. It's been that way longer than you or I have been alive.

Also, fwiw, Anderson had a MJ diversion program, too, and a Republican named Jerry Madden passed a state law that said cops don't have to arrest for pot. But for whatever reason, nobody seems to care when Rs do this stuff.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

thanks 5:16, absolutely correct. Fixed it.

wolf sittler said...

Here's a fitting quote from the book "The Honest Politician's Guide to Crime Control". written by noted criminologists Norval Morris and Gordon Hawkins (1969).

"The first principle of our cure for crime is this: we must strip off the moralistic excrescences of our criminal justice system so that it may concentrate on the essential. The prime function of the criminal law is to protect our persons and our property; these purposes are now engulfed in a mass of other distracting, inefficiently performed, legislative duties. When the criminal law invades the spheres of private morality and social welfare, it exceeds its proper limits at the cost of neglecting its primary tasks. This unwarranted extension is expensive, ineffective and criminogenic."

Steve said...

From a probation perspective (and I'm just speaking for myself), I totally agree with this. We need to spend our limited time and very scarce resources on far more serious issues of public safety than marijuana smokers.

Patrick said...

Does the drug education class include tips for growing your own? Couldn't hurt.

Anonymous said...

@4:57:00 PM, In this case, the difference is that the legislature passed a law allowing "cite & release", though they flawed in keeping the offense a higher level misdemeanor. Guess what will happen if you don't have a valid TX driver license or ID on you should you be busted for the offense? The legislature needs to go back and either legalize small amounts or reduce the charge to a Class C but Ogg is not making new law, nor are the two major police agency leaders failing to comply with the law. On a side note, I think a lot of the suggested savings is overstated and the amount of man-hours applied to each case seems embellished but as Scott mentions, it is a good first step, no matter what Dan Patrick and his minions think.

Anonymous said...

Agree with you Steve. Need to arrest illegal aliens and deport them besides muslims they are the most dangerous to our society.
Make America great again.