Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Effective Wednesday, Bexar County residents may be ticketed rather than arrested for certain non-violent misdemeanor crimes, including possession of marijuana under four ounces.
Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood announced the cite and release pilot program Wednesday, detailing sheriff's deputies' discretion to treat five Class B misdemeanors as citable offenses rather than ones for which an accused person would be sent to jail.
"It was our hope that the offender does not face challenges associated with an arrest and conviction on their record while seeking further education and starting, or advancing, a career," LaHood said.
Included in the program are criminal mischief and property damage, property theft, and theft of service – all valued at less than $750 – and driving with an invalid license. Possession of synthetic marijuana and graffiti will remain jailable offenses.
LaHood said San Antonio Police Department officials "verbally told" him they were excited to implement the program.
"SAPD and the City of San Antonio have had talks with the Bexar County District Attorney's Office to study the issue, examine the impact and determine a proper course for implementation," the SAPD public information office wrote in a Wednesday email to the Rivard Report. "At this time, no decisions on cite and release between SAPD and the Bexar County DA's Office have been finalized."
Persons eligible for misdemeanor citations must be residents of Bexar County; possess a valid government issued identification card; be 17 years of age or older; not be on bond, probation, or parole; and have no active warrants or other pending charges, LaHood said.
The program may require an accused person to pay a $250 program fee; pay restitutions, if applicable; complete eight hours of community service; be subjected to urinalysis, if applicable; and complete relevant education classes, he added.
"The most obvious benefit to the defendant, or the citizen accused, is having a clear criminal record since the arrest and the charge will not appear in criminal history search," LaHood said. "If someone completes this program, their case can never even be filed."
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said the program will allow for better use of jail space, as well as deputies' time and efforts.
"We're obviously [going to be] able to give folks a second chance and make better use of our resources," he said.
Neither Salazar nor LaHood indicated that the program constituted decriminalization of marijuana in Bexar County.
LaHood first announced the pilot in September. His office has since detailed the program and created the technical mechanisms required to run the program, he said, adding that the Bexar County Commissioners Court, the County Manager's office, pre-trial services, public defenders, and the Bexar County Sheriff's Department helped craft the program.
Neither Alamo Heights nor Olmos Park will participate in the program, their respective police chiefs told the Rivard Report.
"We're not interested in the cite and release just because we follow the rule of law," Olmos Park Police Chief Rene Valenciano said. "The rule of law is if it's a class B misdemeanor, then its an arrestable offense, and that's what we're going to do."
No other municipality within Bexar County told LaHood it would not participate in the program, the district attorney said.
Luis Nakamoto, executive director of San Antonio's National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the program is a "step in the right direction," especially since San Antonio is one of the last cities in Texas to implement a cite and release program. He dinged LaHood for taking too long to roll the program out, saying he waited for an election year to implement the plan.
LaHood said he wanted to make the plan relevant to Bexar County rather than follow programs other counties across the state created.
"I believe this is here to stay, at least under this administration," LaHood said.