The Austin Chronicle

Cops Given Choice Whether to Arrest for Minor Pot Possession

By Jordan Smith, August 30, 2007, 6:02pm, Newsdesk

On Saturday, Sept. 1, when HB 2391 takes effect, Texas police officers will be given a choice to issue a ticket instead of arrest individuals for certain Class A and B misdemeanors – including possession of up to 4oz of marijuana. Authored by Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson – also chair of the House Corrections Committee – and carried by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo – also vice chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee – the bill is designed to ease the burden on county jails and county budgets. The bill would allow an officer to write a ticket in lieu of arrest for certain misdemeanor crimes committed in the same county where the individual lives. Among the new citation-eligible offenses are criminal mischief, theft, theft of service, and graffiti, where the loss of goods/services or damage done is less than $500; bringing and/or possessing “contraband in a correctional facility”; driving with a suspended license; and, possession of equal to or less than 4oz of pot. The Travis Co. Sheriff’s Office estimates that 7,000 people were booked people into jail in 2006 for the offenses listed under the new law. TCSO spokesman Roger Wade said that most of those defendants would’ve qualified for a citation only, which would’ve saved the county about $1.2 million. Additionally, Wade said that the TCSO estimates that each arrest took an officer off the street for an average of three hours per arrest.

A citation written under the new law would require the ticketed individual to appear before a magistrate for a hearing on the charged offense before being released on a personal bond – except in cases where “good cause shown” means a stint in the county lockup. Any failure to appear before the judge at the appointed time would prompt filing an arrest warrant.

The measure received near unanimous support in the Lege. In the House the measure passed 132-1 on a record vote with only Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, voting against the measure; in the Senate the bill passed 29-1 with Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, voting against passage. Gov. Rick Perry signed the measure into law June 15.

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