So says our new DA.
Newly elected Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson said Thursday he will prosecute as felonies drug cases that involve trace amounts of crack cocaine, reversing his predecessor’s stand on the so-called “trace cases.”
“If there is enough evidence to test in a lab, then we’ll take the charges,” Anderson said.
Anderson campaigned on the issue last year after then District Attorney Pat Lykos implemented a policy that treated cases with drug residue of less than 1/100th of a gram as a misdemeanor.
Lykos said her policy ensured that crimes prosecuted as state jail felonies had enough of the illegal drug so an independent lab could test it on behalf of the defendant.
She said it was more fair and noted that it reduced the population in the county’s overcrowded jail system.
The change was applauded by law enforcement and criticized by one court official on Thursday.
“They are felons, the state has said they are felons and they need to be prosecuted as such,” said Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union. “These persons, these crackheads are the people who are breaking in to motor vehicles to steal your laptop off the front seat, to grab the purse that’s visible, all those things they can sell for $25 to go buy another crack rock.”
He noted that state law is clear and said Lykos ignored it with her policy.
“If the legislators want to make this not a felony, then they can,” Hunt said. “But to say this is a felony and then have a district attorney say they’re not going to enforce state law is not the way elected officials are supposed to act.”
Harris County’s most senior criminal felony judge, Michael McSpadden, disagreed with Anderson’s change.
“I wish he would use his discretion to relieve the great number of cases that I don’t think are proper in felony court,” McSpadden said. “But I understand that the correct way is to address the Legislature.”
As the story notes, Anderson did make an issue of this, so having duly won the nomination and general election we should not be surprised that he is proceeding to do what he said he would do. It would have been nice to have had a debate about this for the general election, but after we Democrats Olivered ourselves, that wasn’t in the cards. Anderson says later in the story that he hopes many of these cases will be resolved by probation, so as not to overcrowd the jails. I hope so, too.
As you know, I agreed with Lykos’ policy on trace cases. You do get into some dicey issues when law enforcement officials start talking about what laws they will and will not enforce – witness all the idiot Sheriffs out there now saying they won’t enforce any new gun laws that they have decided are unconstitutional, because it’s in the Constitution that local law enforcement officials get to make that determination – but DAs do routinely exercise their discretion about what cases to pursue and what cases to move down the priority list. It is true that this is a job for the Legislature to fix, but until they get their act together – and in a 140-day session, they too have to prioritize – there’s a lot of people being needlessly jailed, labeled as felons, and not getting the help they need. This does not serve the public interest, and it puts DAs in this position. I thought Lykos took the right approach, but the point is that she shouldn’t have had to make that decision.