Texas’ Largest Counties Changing Course on Drug Cases

October 03, 2017 by

A few months ago reactions across Texas were varied when Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced that her office would discontinue the policy of arresting offenders in possession of small amounts of drugs, particularly marijuana. Now, Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood seems to be taking the same course, hoping that a cite-and-release policy will help alleviate problems with their overcrowded county jail.

Bexar County’s new pilot program will treat low-level marijuana possession, and certain other misdemeanors, more along the lines of traffic offenses. This is intended to divert offenders from the county jail, which currently is over capacity, to other programs.

Joining LaHood in announcing the new program was the Bexar County Sherriff and County Judge.

Rather than go to jail for low-level possession, offenders will receive a summons, be told to take a class, pay a fine, and perform community service. If all requirements are completed, they won’t have a case filed against them.

LaHood told a local outlet, “Let me emphasize, this program is designed with the intention of balancing community safety, fiscal responsibility for taxpayers, and opportunities for citizens of Bexar County.”

Harris County instituted a similar policy months ago, but just this week District Attorney Ogg said that they were going even further by not prosecuting cases with “miniscule amounts of drugs.”

Ogg didn’t formally roll out the policy, which started in July, but instead notified prosecutors who were tasked with accepting or rejecting charges. Ultimately what this means is that if an officer finds drug remnants so minor that they can’t be tested or ingested, the DA’s office will not file charges.

Because the county stopped using roadside field tests months ago, it’s more difficult to satisfy probable cause requirements in cases where officials can’t actually see the contraband.

“If it’s a traditional residue case, if the officer really can’t see the drugs and be able to say with some certainty based on his expertise what they are, the [intake division] rejects the charge,” Ogg told the Houston Press.  

The programs are based on HB 2392, a bill passed during Texas’ 80th legislative session. “The bill granted peace officers the option to issue a citation to a person who allegedly committed a violation of certain misdemeanor offenses and under certain circumstances,” read the Bexar County press release. “The pilot program, which has been in the works for more than two years, is expected to positively impact the citizens of our community, law enforcement and the justice system.”

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About the Author

Charles operates the Houston office for Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.