With marijuana becoming legal in some other states, it is important for Texas residents to know where it is not legal: Texas. While the criminalization of marijuana may change in upcoming years, it is still a crime to possess even small amounts of marijuana.
The cite-and-release policies of cities like Dallas may inadvertently mislead some defendants into a false sense of security when charged. This policy allows the officer to issue a citation for small amounts of marijuana under certain circumstances and then release the defendant as opposed to bringing them to jail for processing.
Notable reasons for cite-and-release policy
The reasoning behind cite-and-release practices includes the savings to the counties of not having to incarcerate, even briefly, the defendant prior to a court hearing. It may also allow law enforcement officers to remain on the streets fighting serious crime rather than processing pot possessors. The crime charged, however, remains the same as does the potential sentence.
However, there are some other possibly unintended and unforeseen consequences that are not as desirable.
Defendants may fail to show up for arraignment
Receiving a citation for possession under a cite-and-release policy may feel more like a ticket for speeding than a drug charge. However, the defendant must still appear in court later because the citation is actually a summons to appear. That first appearance would typically be the arraignment. If the defendant fails to show up to the court date, unlike the same failure with a speeding ticket, this would now be an additional class A misdemeanor.
There may be an increase in possession charges for small amounts
Another repercussion is that marijuana possession charges may increase in number as a result of the cite-and-release practice. Prior to the law allowing these citations, if an officer found a small amount of marijuana in a bag, the officer may have only issued a possession of paraphernalia citation. This was because the paraphernalia charge did not require the arrest and taking the defendant to jail, unlike the possession charge. Now, without the distinction, the officers may be more likely to charge people with the actual possession as well.
Bexar County has considered adopting the cite-and-release-method but has not jumped on board yet. One official reiterates the concerns for those who fail to show up as per the summons at the later court appearance date. Those defendants may see a warrant for arrest for their troubles and additional jail time on top of the existing drug charges. If convicted on the drug charge, the defendant could still face thousands of dollars in penalties and up to half a year in jail.