Bexar County District Attorney’s Office Announces Policy Update, Including Cite-and-Release Changes

click to enlarge Bexar County District Attorney’s Office Announces Policy Update, Including Cite-and-Release Changes
Jade Esteban Estrada
Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales held a press conference Thursday to share updates on new policies aimed at curbing unnecessary prosecution.

“It is my hope that these new policies will ensure a more efficient and just manner to prosecute crime while keeping our community safe,” Gonzales said.

What follows is rundown of the new initiatives and policies:

The cite-and-release program has been amended to allow police to issue tickets for misdemeanor offenses, including possession of marijuana, misdemeanor theft, driving with an invalid license and criminal mischief. According to the update, those who successfully complete the program will be able to avoid arrest as well as a criminal record. In 2017, SAPD made 6,563 arrests for misdemeanors that could now fall under this new program. This change is viewed as a tax-saving measure, allowing for officers to just issue tickets similar to traffic citations and return to patrol duty. SAPD Chief William McManus told Texas Public Radio the program will have a six-month review period.

Trace Drug Possession and Marijuana Possession
The D.A.’s Office will no longer prosecute people for possession of trace amounts of group 1 controlled substances such as opioids, heroin and cocaine when the amount is less than .25 grams. The office will also not prosecute people in possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. Bexar County D.A.’s Chief of Litigation, Christian Henrickson, told the news site Reason there were more than 5,000 marijuana cases filed last year, and he expects this new policy to yield a significant decrease in prosecution numbers.

Family Violence
A new Family Violence Unit has been created to handle domestic violence, child abuse and sexual abuse crimes, and will operate under the direction of experienced family violence prosecutor Angelica Powers. The number of felony prosecutors assigned to these cases has been increased from 22 to 35, and the total number of family violence prosecutors for each of the felony courts has also been increased. Additionally, the unit has two prosecutors dedicated to human trafficking cases. We previously reported on Bexar County being named one of the deadliest counties in Texas for domestic violence, which illustrated an alarming trend of increasing numbers in family violence fatalities over the years.

Gang Initiative
In an effort to improve information sharing among law enforcement agencies, as well as address gang-related violence in Bexar County, the D.A. has put a new Gang Initiative into place. A report by the Texas Department of Public Safety showed 14 different gangs were encountered by the San Antonio Violent Crime Task Force (Operation Alamo) over a 90-day period in 2017 through traffic stops, scouting, consensual contact and warrants served.

Pretrial Diversion
The Pretrial Diversion Program has been expanded by removing application fees and mandated guilty pleas, as well as strict guidelines that prevented many people from being accepted. Diversion programs are created to reduce the chances of re-offending, while giving people a chance to keep their criminal records clean. According to the update, 1,109 people have been admitted into the program in the first 100 days of Gonzales’ administration, compared to the 259 people admitted during the first 100 days of 2018.

A new bond policy will allow for people charged with misdemeanors or state jail felonies to be released on a personal recognizance, or PR, bond, unless they are considered a flight risk and a danger to the community or the victim. This means defendants will be able to avoid spending time in jail just because they can't afford bail. In the event a prosecutor believes a defendant may pose a danger, those reasons will be documented in the case file and will be reviewed for supervisor approval.

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