If you were caught carrying weed in Austin within the last year or two, you may have noticed that you got to walk away with a citation instead of going directly to jail. The recent trend of not booking everyone who commits a minor crime in Travis County seems to have caught on, with groups of folks showing up as directed to JP5, and then later to the booking desk, personal bonds in hand. These folks are going home after a minor, pre-planned appointment with the laws. I am republishing a post made back during the time this was still a fresh issue, because there seems to be a lot of curiosity about the process. Incidentally, in Vermont, where I used to practice, almost every suspect was cited to come to court at a later time, even on many felonies. They would then be arraigned and given their conditions of release, or occasionally incarcerated. In any case, very efficient use of limited police personnel who can stay on the street protecting the public. I’d be interested to know anyone’s feelings about this- do we really need to take everyone to jail, for every ol’ thing?? Apologies in advance for rehashing an old topic.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
So it’s been weeks since I did the earlier post about the State law that was passed to allow cops to hand out a citation for minor pot possession cases rather than arresting everyone caught. In effect, minor pot cases and some other non-violent B-level misdemeanors (Driving with a Suspended License, Hot Checks, etc.) would get a ticket telling them when to appear at court, much like all class-C misdemeanors (offenses that result in a fine only, such as Public Intoxication, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, and Disorderly Conduct). The purpose was to keep more officers on the street and free up space in the crowded jail for those people who really needed arresting. So the story went that none of the police agencies were implementing the policy, and it died even right here in Austin, where it had enjoyed support. Lo and behold, the financial crisis hits, the markets tank, banks don’t lend, and suddenly everyone’s concerned about budgets… including municipalities and law enforcement. Suddenly Travis County (which estimated it could have saved $1.2 million on marijuana cases alone if the policy had been in place in 2006) took a longer look at the law, and not only Travis County, but Hays and (gasp!) Williamson Counties as well. To be safe, there will be limitations on who may qualify for cite-and-release. For instance, the person must reside in the counry where the offense occurred, have proper ID, and not have any other more serious cases pending. The Austin Chronicle has a more detailed look at the turn of events here: http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=oid%3A686316