Ticket or jail? Local lawmen opt to lock up pot smokers

March 23, 2012

Lawmen don’t make laws, but they do tend to enforce them.

Imagine that.

In the aftermath of television evangelist Pat Robertson’s recent statement that he opposes jail time for those caught with small amounts of marijuana, discussion ensued. Lines were drawn.

Law enforcement officers were mostly against that point of view. Pot smokers were mostly in favor.

Imagine that.

A 2007 law passed by the Texas Legislature, which gave local law enforcement entities a new option, was one topic explored. That law allows a ticket to be issued for amounts of marijuana under 4 ounces, rather than a mandatory arrest and a trip to jail.

County Attorney Kelton Conner said there are five other misdemeanor offenses, such as criminal mischief and theft, that can be handled with a court summons rather than an arrest. He said many local officials don’t see that as a more favorable option. However, Conner made it clear that it’s simply an option – not a forced mandate.

Conner said he doesn’t think of rejecting the court summons option on such Class A and B misdemeanors as being tougher on crime. Instead, he pointed to the fact that no procedures are set up for that process. Officers and deputies don’t have a ticket book for issuing citations for such misdemeanor offenses.

“We just don’t have a system that will allow us to use tickets, even if we wanted to,” Conner said. “I think they assumed a lot of things when this came out. I have no objections to them using it if they’ve got the procedures done, and make it work.”

Both Sheriff Roger Deeds and Police Chief Mitch Galvan have objections to changing the local procedures.

“First and foremost, we are not set up to be able to write citations for Class A and Class B crimes,” Galvan said. “Secondly, that is not something I would consider doing anyway.

“Possession of narcotics is not a crime that I would consider simply issuing a citation for, regardless of the fact that the state legislature decided to allow that to be an option in 2007. A person charged with possession of narcotics in those two classifications always has and always will be taken to jail.”

Deeds’ opinion was virtually the same.

“We are not set up for doing that in the County Court at Law, and I am not at this office, either,” Deeds said.

“My stance on illegal drugs is just that if it’s illegal you go to jail. I don’t make the laws, I just enforce them.”

Deeds said that the bond amounts are, in most cases, low enough that most misdemeanor marijuana suspects bond out of jail quickly and aren’t a burden on the jail population.

“These kinds of cases don’t really affect the long-term jail population because they get out the next day after breakfast in jail in most cases,” Deeds said. “(Changing) would complicate paperwork and really wouldn’t benefit the jail,” Deeds said.

Deeds said misdemeanor marijuana bonds usually range from $1,000 to $5,000.

“For Hood County it would be to change policies and procedures and make an easy arrest more difficult for the County Court at Law,” Deeds said. “I would keep it the same.”

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