Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot will no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana cases for first-time offenders, the district attorney's office announced Thursday.
Anyone arrested a second or subsequent time for misdemeanor marijuana possession will be offered entry into a pretrial diversion program that will allow them to keep their criminal records clean. Creuzot said his office is also dropping all pending first-time misdemeanor marijuana charges filed before he took office.
In a memo released Thursday, Creuzot wrote that, though black people and people of other races use marijuana at similar rates, blacks are three times more likely to be prosecuted for misdemeanor marijuana possession than people of any other race. Black defendants are more likely to be convicted of misdemeanor marijuana charges and more likely to be given jail sentences upon conviction, he said.
According to data obtained by the Observer last year, the overwhelming majority of people ticketed for marijuana possession during the early days of Dallas' cite-and-release program were black or Hispanic.
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The change was one of several the district attorney's office announced in Thursday's memo. Among other changes, Creuzot will also not prosecute people arrested for possession of trace amounts of drugs, driving with a suspended license or stealing necessary items.
Among other changes, Creuzot said his office would also be updating its guidelines for setting bail amounts. In misdemeanor cases, the district attorney's office will seek to release defendants without bail before trial except in cases where a defendant is deemed a flight risk or a danger to the community or the victim. In state jail felony cases, all defendants who have no criminal convictions within the last five years, don't pose a flight risk and don't present an ongoing threat will also be released without bail before trial.
In the memo, Creuzot, who campaigned on cash bail reform, said the county's bail system doesn't keep communities safe.
"Our current system is uncoupled from physical safety and fairness, as people sit in jail not because they pose an identifiable danger to the community, but because they cannot pay their fee to go home," Creuzot wrote. "When low-income people are held in jail simply because they cannot afford a few hundred dollars, they lose their jobs, housing, stability, and cannot take care of their children: this makes our communities less safe."