New Harris County DA makes major policy change

January 25, 2013 3:10:43 PM PST
The brand new Harris County district attorney is making a policy reversal. He is undoing his predecessor's decision to go easy on people found with trace amounts of crack cocaine.

The prior DA, Pat Lykos, decided pursuing charges against people caught with less than 1/100 of a gram of drugs wasted too much money and too many resources. But new DA Mike Anderson says he's going after anyone caught with enough drugs to be tested in a lab.

For the past few years, what's called 'trace evidence' of drugs, such as residue on a crack cocaine pipe, has been prosecuted as a misdemeanor in Harris County It was the policy decision of Lykos. Anderson campaigned on prosecuting it as a felony again. This week, he made it official.

"Not just from a legal standpoint, which is certainly enough," said Anderson. "But from a human decency standpoint, these people are never going to be able to afford treatment but as prescribed by law, arrested and as a condition of deferred adjudication, put in treatment."

That means that already, where tickets might have been written for trace drug possession, arrests are being made, criminal cases are being prepared and cases will be going to grand juries for indictment.

For Judge Mike McSpadden, it's d?j? vu all over again.

"Over the years, one grand jury after another has come to me and said, 'What are we doing with all these less than a gram cases? Why are you wasting our time?'" he said.

McSpadden is appealing to the legislature to reclassify trace evidence cases from a felony to a Class A misdemeanor, up to a year in the county jail, up to a $4,000 fine and mandatory participation in a drug treatment program.

The DA has no problem with changing the law. Until then he says, he'll enforce what's on the books.

"Less than one gram, whether it's cocaine, meth or heroin, then you've committed an offense," said Anderson.

Late Friday afternoon, HPD's Chief Charles McClelland released the following statement on the new policy: "We haven't had an opportunity to meet with nor review District Attorney Anderson's policy as of yet, but will do so when myself and my command staff meet with him in coming weeks. Until such a meeting, it would be premature to discuss opinions on this particular issue."
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