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Pot Crusading Dallas DA Resigns

Susan Hawk, former Dallas District Attorney
Susan Hawk, former Dallas District Attorney

After spending an extensive amount of time in rehab, Dallas District Attorney Susan Hawk has resigned. Hawk was well known for her mental instability and crackdown on prosecutors making plea deals with marijuana offenders.

Hawk took office in January 2015 after defeating incumbent district attorney Craig Watkins, she became the only Republican to hold countywide office in Dallas.

Her resignation comes after 20 months in the position, and her replacement will be picked by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. His selection will serve through the 2018 election.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve this office and the citizens of Dallas County,” Hawk said in a letter to Abbott, “but my health needs my undivided attention. I appreciate the grace I’ve been shown as I’ve tried to balance my health and my duties. But last fall upon returning from treatment, I made a commitment to step away from the office if I felt I could no longer do my job, and unfortunately I’ve reached that point as my health needs my full attention in the coming months.”

Hawk began her downward spiral while campaigning, going into rehab for prescription drug addiction, though she originally stated the reason was for back surgery. She would then go on to split time between mental health facilities in both Arizona and Houston on three separate occasions for depression and thoughts of suicide. During that time, staffers would tell the public that she was on vacation. She spent more than six months out of work.

During the times she was at work, she accused others of tapping her phones, hacking her computer, and a number of other unfounded incidents related to paranoia which included the firing of several employees, one who had been there 26 years that was later offered his job back.

One of her most newsworthy policy positions was earlier this year when she told her prosecutors to stop offering plea deals to marijuana offenders, presumably because it was 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.

Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018
Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018

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.

Hawk told 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.

Later during her time in office, a lawsuit was brought against her claiming she was unfit to perform her duties as district attorney, however it was dismissed.

After her most recent leave, calls grew for her to resign before an August 22 deadline. If she had left office before that date, the position would have been filled by election rather than appointment.

Hawk admitted in her letter that she was no longer capable of doing her job.

In a statement, Abbott’s office said that it will begin to take applications for Hawk’s empty seat and “take the appropriate time to ensure the replacement is best suited to serve the citizens of Dallas County.”

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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