HOUSTON- Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg,
flanked by law enforcement and community partners, marked the two-year
anniversary of the Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program during a press
Over the last two years, $35,135,520 of Harris County tax
dollars were redirected from the arrest and prosecution of misdemeanor
marijuana offenders toward enforcement of more serious criminal laws—more than
9,000 individuals have been diverted.
The initiative, started in March 2017, is a pre-charge
diversion program offered by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to
offenders who would otherwise be arrested and charged with possession of
misdemeanor marijuana, regardless of criminal history.
Houston Police Department, Harris County Sheriff’s Office,
Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department and community
leaders all support the program that diverts offenders away from jail and
potential convictions, and reallocates agencies’ resources to priority
objectives, such as arresting violent offenders and aiding victims of crime.
“This gives law enforcement more time to answer serious
calls- rapes, robberies, people in need in our community” Ogg said. “It also
allows us to direct the precious resources of the Harris County District
Attorney’s Office to more important matters. Our prosecutors are stretched thin
and we want them working on crimes against victims; marijuana is not that.”
“This is a real tangible benefit to our community, by
leading with smart prosecution,” Harris County District Attorney’s Office
Misdemeanor Division Chief Nathan Beedle said. “Our misdemeanor prosecutors are
now able to focus on burglary of a motor vehicle, assault on a family member,
indecent exposure, DWI cases---this is intelligence-based prosecution.”
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office and nearly 100
local law enforcement agencies joined in collaboration to redirect limited
public safety dollars away from low level misdemeanor marijuana offenders and
towards offenders committing crimes against people and property.
Ultimately, it is the consensus of criminal justice leadership in Harris County
that the public will be safer as a result of this program.
Criminal justice data shows that on average 10,000
misdemeanor marijuana cases were prosecuted annually by the Harris County
District Attorney’s Office in the decade prior to 2016. These cases, on
any given day, comprised over 10% of the misdemeanor court dockets in the
Harris County Criminal Courts at Law. The routine processing of
these cases impacted the budgets of Harris County law enforcement agencies,
crime labs, and the Harris County jail in significant ways.
Calculated generally, the following breakouts illustrate
current annual savings based on the current annual marijuana caseload of 7,000
fewer cases. The two year total is:
Police: $138.48 x 14,000 = $1,938,720
*Anecdotally, law enforcement officers reported spending an
average of 4 hours per marijuana arrest. 40,000 police patrol hours calculated
at the average local hourly compensation rate of $34.62 total almost $1m
previously spent by front line defenders arresting and transporting marijuana
offenders rather than patrolling neighborhoods.
Crime Labs: $179 x 14,000 = $2,506,000
It costs $179 for the Harris County crime lab to analyze a
single-exhibit case. Other crime labs report similar testing costs.
Previously, the Harris County Institute of Forensic Science analyzes and tests
marijuana in every single criminal case, regardless of the case outcome. This
wasted valuable crime lab resources.
Jail: $865 x 14,000 = $12,110,000
The Harris County Jail is the single largest public safety
expense in Harris County. At $800 booking fee per case and a
minimum of 1 day at $65/day spent on jailing misdemeanor marijuana
offenders, Harris County’s primary public safety asset was being used to house
low-risk offenders who posed no real threat to the public at large.
District Attorney: $478 x 14,000 = $6,692,000
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office expended
significant prosecutor time and effort prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana cases
– pro-rated, the prosecution of misdemeanor marijuana cases was handled by the
equivalent of 8.73 misdemeanor prosecutors and two full-time staff
Indigent Defense: $440 x 8,120 = $3,572,800
Harris County is constitutionally required to pay for
court-appointed defense counsel for indigent defendants at an average cost of
$440 per case.
Courts: $297 x 14,000 = $4,158,000
The court cost for a misdemeanor case is $297.
County District Attorney’s Office