By the time Jesse appeared before the judge Friday, he’d spent nine days in jail on a single marijuana possession charge. He had no one to come bail him out.
“I had the money,” says Jesse, 19. “I just didn't have anybody to pick up the money.”
Jesse asked that his last name not be used.
Now people like Jesse, who are arrested with less than four ounces of marijuana in the city of Dallas, won’t be making the trip to jail under the so-called “cite and release program.” It applies only to those arrested solely on a charge of misdemeanor marijuana possession.
They’ll be cited, fingerprinted, their marijuana confiscated and released beginning Dec. 1. They will be required to appear before Criminal Court Judge Nancy Mulder, who's chairing the committee overseeing implementation of the program.
When they do appear, they’ll be fingerprinted to make sure it’s the same person originally cited. Their mugshots will be taken. Other than not being arrested, their cases will be handled as they are now by the District Attorney’s Office.
“I do want to be very clear possession of marijuana is still a Class A or Be misdemeanor offense,” the judge said. “This is not a ticket. It still a criminal offense for which you can go to jail.”
The judge says she doesn’t think people’s livelihoods should be ruined over small amounts of marijuana.
“Nobody should be smoking it, but the fact is people do,” Mulder said. “We don't want to make people lose their jobs, have to pay $300 to $400 to get their cars to get their cars out of the impound, risk losing their apartments and everything else.”
Dallas police file anywhere from 30 to 35 cases a month that would be eligible for cite and release, she says.
In 2007, the state legislature passed a law that allowed police to cite and release defendants accused of certain misdemeanors including marijuana possession. Several cities, such as Austin and Houston, implemented cite and release programs.
Months ago, the Dallas City Council gave its approval for the program, but it took a while to figure out how to make it work with the county’s outdated computer system and it required the approval of county commissioners.
That approval came Tuesday 4-1, despite the heated objections of Commissioner John Wiley Price. He objected because the program does not apply to those arrested for marijuana possession in other cities in Dallas County.
Jesse appeared in Mulder’s court Friday to plead no contest to the charge.
“It’s not just that he spent nine days (in jail),” says his attorney Hilton Kong. “It's also the backlog it causes here in Dallas County. I was appointed to this case last week. I could have been up here last Friday, pled him out and got him out. He would have been only in jail for two days.”
Kong says it’s good for the justice system.
“They still have to come to court,” he says. “They still have to make an appearance. It's not as simple as a traffic ticket. But what it will do is keep them out of the jail population.”
Mulder hopes that other cities in Dallas County do sign onto the program. For now, those arrested in other cities in Dallas County will still make the trip to jail, but they won’t have to pay money to get out of jail.
“They’ll still be arrested and taken to jail and in that regard, it’s not fair,” the judge said. “What we’re hoping is that by taking this small step that we can convince other cities that that is a good thing and they should also have their police departments participate in it.”
If it’s implemented in other cities, it would help people like Andrew Hurt, 20. He was arrested in March after Richardson police found a marijuana blunt in his SUV. He spent 18 hours in jail.
His family paid his bond, so he would make it to his job on time. He went straight from jail to work.
“It was a real, rough night,” he says. “Even 18 hours, that's not that long, but if I was in there for a couple of days, I would have missed work and gotten fired and that would have just ruined my life.”
It was the first time he’d been charged with a crime. He had a scheduled court appearance Friday. His case is still pending.
The judge gave Jesse a 27-day jail term. Because of Dallas County’s policy, that gives prisoners three days of credit for every one served, she gave him time served.
Mulder also warned him of the potential hazards of smoking marijuana.
“I'm sorry that you spent so much time in jail,” Mulder told him as he returned to jail. “Good luck to you.”
He got out this afternoon.