Dallas DA pushes for stronger marijuana prosecutions
The Dallas District Attorney isn’t happy that her prosecutors are making deals with marijuana offenders, and it could be because it is cutting into her budget.
Despite what state law prescribes, district attorney offices around the state largely decide how punishment is doled out for marijuana possession. This is the case in Harris County, where Devon Anderson diverts people through a first time offender program, which by-passes an arrest or criminal record.
Attorneys in the Dallas office have been cutting deals with low level offenders as well, and according to the Dallas Observer, since 2007 the DA’s office has offered first-time offenders charged with certain misdemeanors like marijuana possession and shoplifting the option to address the charges through a “memo agreement.” Upon meeting certain conditions outlined in the agreement and paying a $620 fine, the case is dismissed. Cases dismissed in this way are eligible for expungement, leaving the defendant once again with a clean criminal record.
Many prosecutors, however, strike deals with defendants without using the memo agreement. For marijuana possession cases, defendants are often allowed to quickly dispose of the case by pleading guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia, a class C misdemeanor. They pay a fine of up to $500, avoid the classes and drug tests, and can also have their records wiped clean.
Now District Attorney Susan Hawk wants prosecutors to stick to the memo agreement.
“We are encouraging prosecutors to address changing criminalistics behaviors in plea bargains and push for rehabilitative conditions outlined in the memo agreement,” Brittany Dunn, the office’s spokesperson wrote in an email. “Your stated ‘lesser-included, easy plea’” — e.g. drug paraphernalia — “will stay off the offender’s record, not address the issue, and detrimentally affect them for years to come. We are committed to ending revolving door punishment. Mass incarceration costs us all and begins when we refuse to address the criminalistics behavior and perpetuate the ‘slap on the wrist’ mentality.”
A person failing to meet the conditions of the agreement would instead be subject to a class B misdemeanor, which can’t be expunged.
Those who take part in the memo agreement end up paying $620, all of which goes to the district attorney’s office. If they plead to a class C misdemeanor, any money collected under such a deal goes to the state instead.
Hawk recently came back to work after suffering a mental breakdown and staying in a mental health facility, following the firing of a top employee who she was having paranoid delusions about. Hawk went so far as to have her phone and computer changed out multiple times because she believed that people were in them. She also recently won a court case fighting her removal from office due to her severe depression and mental issues which caused an extended leave of absence. Before her time in office she disappeared while fighting a painkiller addiction during her campaign.