If you're white in Dallas, you're probably good to go ahead a smoke up Friday, but you might want to watch out if you're a part of the nearly 50 percent of city's population that is made up of people of color. That's the takeaway from the Dallas Police Department's latest batch of cite-and-release citations, tabulated just in time for 4/20.
Cite-and-release began Dec. 1 in Dallas. The policy allows officers to issue citations to someone busted for marijuana possession, and marijuana possession alone, rather than making an immediate arrest and taking the person to jail. The penalties for the levels of possession covered by cite-and-release — less than 2 ounces and between 2 and 4 ounces — remain the same. People caught with 2 ounces or less face up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine. Those busted with than 2-4 ounces face up to a year in jail and $4,000 fine.
Through Jan. 18, the cutoff date for the last set of stats the Observer obtained from DPD, police had issued cite-and-release citations to 23 people, all of them black or Latino. From Jan. 18 through April 9, DPD officers issued another 25 cite-and-release citations, according to the department.
Of those 25 people, two were white.
Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston, who believes that marijuana should be legal but pushed for cite-and-release as an interim measure, said Thursday that he's angry at the continued disparity in enforcement of the city's marijuana laws.
"I'm really disappointed and frankly shocked," Kingston says. "I don't think people frequently accuse DPD of being racist, at least in personal dealings with officers. It's just that the way we police these lower-income communities is that we expose people with the least resources to the most police presence. It's a recipe for disparate impact."
As DPD has continued to issue citations — Kingston said he hoped officers would stop after the initial data came out in January, effectively decriminalizing pot in Dallas — those busted during the first wave of cite-and-release have begun making their way through the legal system. The Dallas County District Attorney's Office declined a request to talk about how it's handling cite-and-release cases, but Ed Gomez, a longtime Dallas criminal defense lawyer, told the Observer that he got his first cite-and-release case last month.
"The guy walks in and says, 'I got a ticket for marijuana,'" Gomez says. "He's confused. Tickets are for paraphernalia cases, and he's thinking he's got a ticket. I said, 'Oh no, this is not a Class C [misdemeanor] ticket.' They think they've got a Class C ticket. I said, 'This is not a Class C ticket; this is a Class B, and you're looking at six months and a $2,000 fine.' He was shocked."
Curious as to how the cite-and-release process worked, Gomez went to the Frank Crowley Courthouse ahead of the appearance date listed on his client's summons, headed to the assigned court and got a "pass slip," rescheduling the case for a later date. It was the same rote process as any other marijuana possession case, he said.
According to court records, most of the defendants with appearance dates, whether they have paid lawyers or not, have shown up to court. Warrants have been issued for two defendants who failed to appear for hearings, according to county records.
Those who show up to court on marijuana beefs, cite-and-release or otherwise, are being offered memo agreements by the county, Gomez says, and they're a pretty good deal.
"They have to do to [urinary analyses], they have to take a drug class, and they have 24 hours of community service and the case is dismissed two months," Gomez says. "It used to be that was a one-shot deal — you get it one time in your lifetime. If you had a prior record, you weren't eligible for a memo agreement, but now it appears that it's policy to offer a memo agreement on almost any marijuana case."
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